After numerous unexpected events in parliamentary affairs, we have spent five years of troubled democracy – troubled in the sense that the House of Representatives died two times only to live to pass its legal five years almost without political life in its later days. Now the fresh polls for federal parliament and provincial assemblies have come to our door yet another time. This is the event that has to be imbued with hope. Still, we are simultaneously anticipating the fear of despair that may bring misfortunes of repeated troubles and undesirable political instability.
If we think our present constitution is whole, we might be mistaken. The constitution we think of as ‘whole’ has otherwise left a big ‘hole’ among many small holes. To put it in other words, our constitution has provisioned a rather equivocal article that allows the Prime Minister to use the inexplicable power to dissolve the parliament even as the former can command the majority votes of the latter. This cannot be a defect of democracy, as it has been practiced worldwide in many democratic systems. This is a blessing to the people of a country where they have every right to vote for a party and/or its candidates they like or may also exercise their right to vote against them if they detest their policies and programmes.
In our case, however, it has proved to be a curse. We have changed the governments many a time for transient causes, less guided by political principles than driven by a leader’s this or that political interest. Except for two cases of the ruthless dissolution of the democratically elected government by two despotic Kings in 1960 and 2002, the HoR has been unscrupulously dissolved by the influential Prime Ministers, who commanded majority votes in parliament three times in 1994, 2020, and 2021. Those prime Ministers were fully mandated by the people to freely work for the public good, but unfortunately, they could not manage the intra-party rift, which resulted in the undesirable dissolution of the HoR. Serious debates surfaced during those unfortunate events but have slowly calmed down inconclusively.
The inconclusive debates that have often been ignored by the politicians of the lower tier and, more surprisingly, constitutional experts cannot be called right by any means. Even if the Prime Mister has the right to dissolve the parliament, which they think impedes them from working in favour of the public good, they also have the responsibility to safeguard the same parliament, which allowed them to become the prime Minister to the last and best possible effect. The reasons our premiers furnished were only playful amid the vast problems.
One genuine problem is whether to sustain political stability by allowing the parliament to live for a fixed term or hurl it into the uncertainty of its life, leaving it under the mercy of the Prime Minister’s whim, keeping the parliament under the Damocles sword. The pressing question, therefore, might be – can we sustain political stability through the existing system of indirect election of the Prime Minister through parliament? The tentative answer to the question is both yes and no. I would argue that either answer without free and fair discussion among all the stakeholders of democracy would not be justifiable.
The conscious citizens should think of it critically and explore the pros and cons. If we say yes, we have to establish the argument by saying that the system is right, only our practice is wrong, citing convincing examples of successful cases. If we say no, we should equally establish the argument that the directly elected Prime Minster is considerate and always works for the public good. We cannot be assured by simplistic explanations that the Prime Minister is always rational and considerate. If they behave otherwise at some point, no one can check the supreme executive’s initiatives if they are not for the benefit of the nation and its people.
Now we have plunged into the pond of the periodic election, where we may sink again if we cannot swim well. Our political practices are fragile, which may yield undesirable consequences. Constitutionally speaking, we are practicing a multiparty election system, which has no alternative, at least at this hour. But politically speaking, we cannot see any possibility of a single-party majority in the upcoming election. Hence, we can anticipate a coalition government formed out of the alliance of two or more parties in parliament. But we have already witnessed the ‘holes’ of making and unmaking the government several times, even two years after the first appointment of the Prime Minister. This may bring political uncertainty like the ones we have bitterly experienced in earlier years.
An alliance is essential for the national consensus, but the same can be harmful if practiced only to form the government and pass years without doing anything significant for developing an underdeveloped country like ours. There can be two options to assure political stability at this juncture – one is amending the constitution with the direct election of the governing supreme, Prime Minster or the President as per the national consensus, which cannot be done immediately before the polls, and the other is people’s wise voting practice for choosing only one of the two major parties which are likely to rule for five years if only alternatively.
Undemocratic though it may seem to several minor parties, this is nevertheless the only way, for now, to lead to political stability in this country despite some small ‘holes’ even within this practice. In the long run, however, I would argue that only a stable system with which anybody is compelled to comply – both the commoners and those in power – can allow the parliament to live a full life. That system is nothing but the direct rule of the supreme executive, together with a strong system of impeachment from the people’s side.
(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation. email@example.com)