As the confused main opposition fails to capitalise on the weaknesses of the ruling party, many fear a force not in the scene could fill the vacuum.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
The role of an opposition counts the most when the ruling party is holding an absolute majority. The party commanding the government with an overwhelming majority has chances of curtailing democratic rights and civil liberties in the lack of proper checks and balances. The party in the opposition bears a duty to ensure that the force in the power by no means breaches its jurisdiction.
Stronger the government, the role of the opposition needs to be more effective.
The Nepali Congress, which has commanded the government for the longest time, after the restoration of democracy in 1990, for the first time was limited to the opposition bench for a full five years after the then left alliance, now Nepal Communist Party, swept the general elections in 2017. The incumbent two-thirds majority government took up executive authority amid huge expectations from the public.
However, as the government completes one third of its tenure, the steps it has taken have not given the public much hope. The failure in living up to their expectations has resulted in a sense of frustration among the people. The fact that thousands of people stood up for TV personality Rabi Lamichhane, protesting the government and the ruling party, is a clear indication of the people’s frustration against the government.
In a democracy, the failures of the ruling party give opportunities for the opposition to flourish. However, Nepali Congress has not been able to capitalise on the people’s dissatisfaction towards incumbent KP Sharma Oli-led government. Neither in the parliament, nor with the people, has the main opposition been able to make its presence felt.
According to political experts, Nepali Congress seems lost. The party is weakened due to internal rifts, which are a perennial problem, affecting its performance in both running the party and performing the role of the main opposition. While struggling to ease the day-to-day life of the general public, the government has been dragged into one controversy after another, be it the purchase of a wide-body craft, Baluwatar land scam or the investigations into a 33-kg gold smuggling racket. Though the Congress party tried to take the issue to the public, it ended up staying mum because these scams showed direct or indirect links with the party leaders. The party consequently failed to take them up as agendas against the government.
The introduction of the medical council bill, the Information Technology bill and bill to an amendment to the National Human Rights Commission Act, which were criticised by people from different walks of life, was also an opportunity for the main opposition to take the issue to the people. However, different civil society organisations like Federation of Nepali Journalists resorted to a series of protests pressuring the government to agree to make the needed changes.
Congress lawmakers did raise the issue but were not loud enough. The party, which obstructed the House demanding that its president Sher Bahadur Deuba should get to address the House of Representatives prior to PM Oli, was not bold enough to raise the issue.
While the country was reeling under severe flooding and landslides, the party obstructed the Lower House, together with Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, demanding a parliamentary probe committee to investigate two incidents of police killing in Sarlahi district. Kumar Paudel, Sarlahi district chief of the banned Communist Party of Nepal led by Netra Bikram Chand, and Saroj Narayan Mahato, a local from the district were killed in police action in June and July respectively.
As the ruling party was rigid against forming such a committee, saying National Human Rights Commission was investigating the cases, the opposition was forced to withdraw its protest without getting its demand addressed.
Even towards the end of the budget session that prorogued on Sept 19, the party obstructed the House demanding action against the assailant of Kiran Koirala, the party’s Banke district president. However, the history repeated itself as it had to withdraw the obstruction without concrete commitment from the government.
Political commentator Puranjan Acharya, who closely follows the Congress, says the party completely missed the opportunity to make productive use of the parliament. “The party wasted the time raising minor issues which people don’t connect with,” he said. “Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba failed completely as the leader of the opposition.”
He argued the level of aggression he demonstrated towards the end of the parliament session had to be shown from the very beginning of the session. Addressing the closing of the fourth session of the federal parliament Deuba asked the government to work by making people the priority. “I warn the government either to give up acts curtailing the civil liberties or face stern protests,” he said in the House of Representatives referring to the different controversial bills.
In Acharya’s words, the Congress party also has failed to please the cadres in the field. For a party to be become stronger it must be clear ideologically but the party, which calls itself a torchbearer of democracy, stands on shaky ground. Dr Shashank Koirala, the party’s general secretary, repeatedly has been demanding a referendum on religion, federalism and republicanism against the constitution promulgated on the leadership of his own party. “You cannot expect the party to flourish with regressive agendas,” Acharya added.
Three years after the general convention the party, it is yet to complete its appointment in different departments. It is not surprising that the party, which is talking about a referendum on federalism, is yet to reform its structure. The party has not formed its provincial committees. It also lacks committees in 77 districts, 165 electoral constituencies and 6,668 wards in the new political setup. The internal rift within the party is no news. There are visibly three factions while there are sub-factions within them. The differences between party president Deuba, senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad Situala is visible publicly. The factionalism is eating away at the sister wings as well.
The recent act of Tarun Dal Chairman Jit Jung Basnet to sack the General Secretary of the organization, Bhupendra Jung Shahi is a result of intense factionalism within the youth-wing of the grand old party. The situation is no different in the Nepal Student Union, the party’s student wing, which is struggling to hold its general convention months after the terms of the incumbent leadership ended.
The party had to even struggle to cover up the clash between two factions of the union before the party headquarters in Sanepa, in January. Amid the several bust ups, the party on April 24 started is ‘Jagaran Abhiyan’ [awareness campaign] to reenergise the party cadres and supporters and revive the presence of the party. However, the party leadership did not have much hope to give to their cadres who wore a defeated mentality after the party’s debacle in 2017’s three-tier election.
There were reports from the field that party cadres said it was the party leadership which needed the jagaran. At a press meet in June, party spokesperson Bishwo Prakash Sharma admitted that there were concerns from the leaders and cadres across the country about the way the party was functioning.
Acharya says the jagaran will not give the expected results as the party itself is in a confused state of mind. “The jagaran is nothing but a meeting of different factions at the local level,” he said in a satirical tone. “At least they are meeting.” He says if the party genuinely wants its revival, the leadership must change its way of functioning.
Political experts say, in principle the opposition has to benefit from the failures of the ruling party. However, in the lack of effective opposition there are possibilities that the actors not in the scene will take that space. It is up to the leadership of the main opposition on whether to capitalise on the failures of the government or let other actors take that space.