The winter session of the parliament, which kicked off yesterday (Monday), is expected to address scores of vital but pending bills by efficiently conducting the parliamentary session this time. However, others have questioned the efficiency of parliamentary processes. Despite parliament's critical role in developing a system of governance, there have been questions regarding its ability to perform this function. This is due to chaos and an overemphasis on rituals and formalities that the House follows. As the primary legislative body, it must enact all necessary legislations required for smoothly running the affairs of the state. Unfortunately, this effort is hampered by chaotic meetings, intentional disruptions, and a lack of quorum, both in full sessions and committee meetings.
In many previous sessions, the attendance book showed a large presence but many seats in the House remained vacant as lawmakers prioritise to getting allowances instead of fulfilling their responsibilities. After receiving harsh criticism for rendering legislative sessions ineffective, political parties and their members, as well as the parliament chair, have committed to making the current session more efficient by facilitating discussions on crucial bills and then ensuring their passage.
Among the most essential bills are those pertaining to civil service, education, adjustment of police forces into provincial units, and, most notably, transitional justice, which includes the Bill to amend the Enforced Disappearances Inquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Act, which will be introduced in March 2023. It is apparent that the TRC Bill that contains the provision of Commission For Investigation of Enforced Disappearances of Persons (CIEDP) and Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created a conundrum for political parties seeking to conclude the remaining part of lingering peace process, which is a key component of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on November 21, 2006 between the then government and CPN-Maoist Party. Earlier CIEDP had received around 64000 insurgency-related complaints from conflict victims and affected families.
Meanwhile, the TRC Bill, which has gathered dust for nearly two decades, has been stalled due to various contentious issues in it. The most problematic issue is the categorisation of human right violations, which has divided human rights abuses into various categories with varying repercussions. Cruel murder, rape, enforced disappearances, and torture were among the worst abuses deemed serious form of human right violations. Special courts would prosecute those who committed such crimes. Murder, abduction, and other less serious human rights offences may be eligible for amnesty depending on their severity.
The bill expanded reparations eligibility for previously excluded victims and ensured that family of "disappeared" individuals could inherit property. According to legal experts, the bill's most contentious provisions were amnesty and accountability that offers amnesty for some "human rights violations.” Critics argued that these provisions have protected offenders from accountability and violated international law. It is worth noting that this bill was not approved by parliament due to concerns about the amnesty provisions and a lack of consensus among political parties.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who also serves as the CPN-Maoist Centre chair, appears to be determined to get all major parties to support the TRC bill. This is evident, given that he has met with the major opposition chairman, KP Sharma Oli, multiple times to discuss the bill's passage during the winter session. The crucial bill would exonerate numerous Maoists from accusations of participating in several serious deeds during the decade-long insurgency (1996-2006), which claimed the lives of around 17000 innocent people. Many top and lower-level Maoist leaders are currently facing legal punishment for their actions during the insurgency period.
Despite multiple rounds of talks between Prachanda and Oli, no definite resolution on this issue has been obtained thus far, as the main opposition has maintained its position on a few key elements in the legislation. The opposition has argued that the bill should focus on victims, while those who violate human rights should face legal consequences. It should also be noted that the country's Supreme Court has adopted a number of positions on TRC-related topics, including aggressively resolving legal objections and controversies. Notably, the Supreme Court has ruled that amnesty for major human rights violations committed during the conflict is not granted. It is clear in its opinion that the TRC Bill must be consistent with international standards.
Experts believe that the Supreme Court's concerns concerning accountability and justice for victims should not be neglected. The main opposition chair is considered as determined to break the present five-party coalition, and he is also opposed to Madhav Kumar Nepal, the CPN-Unified Socialist chair, becoming the next prime minister. The three parties — Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, and Unified Socialist — have reached an agreement under which the leaders of the three parties will become Prime Ministers on a rotating basis. After Prachanda's two-year term as PM expires in December 2024, Nepal will be the next Prime Minister for a year, followed by Congress President Deuba for the remaining two years till the next election.
Some speculate that Oli will go to any extent to prevent his rival Nepal from becoming Prime Minister. As a result, he can join forces with Prachanda at the cost of present coalition and allow him to continue as Prime Minister for the rest of entire five-year period. For this, Oli can offer endorsement, allowing the government to bring the contentious TRC bill to light. However, given the pledge from PM Prachanda and the major leaders of the ruling coalition that the coalition would remain intact for all five years, the partnership appears to be in place till the end of the current parliament's five-year tenure.
The current session of parliament will undoubtedly provide us with some exciting events, as many people will be watching with bated breath to see how legislators from both sides of the aisle will deal with the TRC and other crucial bills.
(The author is former managing editor of this daily.)