KATHMANDU, Aug 28: As the government continues to take one controversial decision after another including the passing of highly-contested bills through parliament, many within the Nepali Congress (NC) have started questioning the role of this main opposition party in the legislature.
Political observers, as well as former lawmakers from the NC, have questioned the competence of the party’s leadership in parliament as a shadow government that was formed to keep a close watch on the government as it also fails miserably to do anything to tame the arbitrary moves of the government.
Although some within the party blame the weak presence of the NC in parliament for its ineffectiveness as the main opposition party, observers say weak leadership and lack of seriousness among the party leadership over issues concerning the general public are solely to be blamed for this state of affairs. “There is an opposition party in the country but not a strong opposition leadership. Absence of a strong leadership that can effectively communicate its views and challenge the ruling parties over their wrongdoings is solely to be blamed for this pathetic situation,” said political analyst Puranjan Acharya.
Echoing Acharya, former NC lawmaker Homnath Dahal admits that the NC had been extraordinarily weak in parliament as it has not been able to engage in any meaningful intervention even when the government rams highly controversial bills through. “Of course, the NC may not be able to obstruct a controversial bill. But it could have at least raised its voice against such bills. Unfortunately, this has not happened in most instances,” he said.
While criticizing the party leadership for failing to project its official position over a number of controversial bills such as the land reform bill, Dahal argued that this situation has emerged largely due to lack of seriousness among the top leadership of the party in issues concerning ordinary people and also due to the nexus of the party’s top leadership with the ruling party when it comes to petty personal interests.
“There is lack of seriousness on the part of the party’s top leadership even as the ruling parties are trying to undermine the role of the main opposition in parliament. The hidden nexus between top leaders of ruling and opposition parties in the division of spoils in many instances has become a termite-like infestation in the NC,” he said, while underscoring the need of personal integrity at the top levels.
Party leaders say in private that the NC, for instance, stopped raising its voice effectively over the wide-body aircraft scam after the name of the party’s top leader became linked with it. A section within the party alleged that the leadership failed to act robustly amid fears that the government may haul them over the coals over the corruption and misappropriation they may have committed while they themselves were in power.
Former NC lawmaker Ram Hari Khatiwada, who was among the firebrands in the previous parliament, said the presence of the NC in parliament has been weak as the top leaders hardly go there to put forth their views. “What the party’s top leaders say in parliament carries weight. Since the number of legislators elected under First Past the Post is small, I have a feeling that our friends elected under the proportional system have not been able to present themselves in an effective manner,” he said.
Khatiwada also believes that NC lawmakers had not been able to raise issues the way they should have raised them. “In the first place, the presence of NC lawmakers is relatively small. But there is also a tendency not to fully utilize zero hour and special hours in the parliament to exert pressure on the government against its wrongdoings,” he said. “Equally, our friends do not seem to have played their role in the parliamentary committees.”
However, lawmakers representing the NC in parliament do not accept such allegations. “I do not understand what it takes to make us an effective opposition party. Do we need to jump in parliament or obstruct parliament business on a regular basis to become effective? We have been regularly raising our voices in parliament,” said NC lawmaker Narayan Khadka.
Khadka, who is the shadow foreign minister, also argued that the NC had been unable to play an effective role in parliament due to its small strength. “It is true that the presence of top leaders is low in parliament. The party’s meetings are also not held regularly. These things may have affected our performance in parliament,” he further said.
Political analysts like Acharya do not buy this view, however. “The government is relentlessly moving towards authoritarianism. It has been taking non-transparent decisions one after another. On top of that, it has largely failed to be accountable to the people. These constitute a very important agenda for any opposition party in a democratic system. NC’s leadership seems the least bothered about these issues,” he said.