Let Parliament Run Smoothly

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Parliaments are revered in all democratic countries as the sovereign assembly of the people's representatives. A democratic country is governed by citizens who elect representatives to their respective parliaments through periodic polls. Looking at our own bicameral parliament, we find that it is a dynamic assembly in which representatives elected by popular votes are actively involved in advancing the interests of the people and the country.

Unfortunately, such acts have not occurred in our parliament's lower and upper houses in recent times owing to differences among political parties. Instead of debating bills and issues that directly affect the lives of ordinary people, our lawmakers are embroiled in a political tussle, effectively holding the people's sovereign assembly hostage to their political interests.

Denial of allegations

The Nepali Congress (NC), the main opposition, and the ruling coalition parties — the CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Centre, and Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) — have lately clashed over the formation of a parliamentary probe panel to investigate the cooperative fund scam. The main opposition demanded that the government establish a panel to investigate the Home Minister's alleged involvement in fund misappropriation. Rabi Lamichhane, the Home Minister and RSP chair, flatly denied the allegations and strongly opposed the formation of the probe body, resulting in a House impasse.

Because of the government's refusal to form the panel, the opposition party has disrupted House business for the past one and a half months in an attempt to increase its pressure. On Friday of last week, the first day of Parliament's budget session, enraged NC legislators brought the House to a standstill over the same issue and stopped the Home Minister from addressing the House, fearing that he would use his speech to distance himself from the accusations levelled against him and criticise the opposition. The Congress is now engaged in disruptive acts. And, in keeping with the adage "the parliament belongs to the opposition while the government belongs to the ruling parties," the main opposition, which is the largest in terms of number of lawmakers, has ruled the roost when it comes to disrupting the House.

On the other hand, Lamichhane has challenged the NC to prove his guilt, and if proven guilty, he promised to leave politics for good. If he was found not guilty, he dared Congress general secretary Gagan Thapa, a vocal critic of Lamichhane, to leave electoral politics. Thapa accepted Lamichhane's challenge. The Congress and RSP have a severe lack of trust in each other, but only time will tell if both youth leaders, Lamichhane and Thapa will keep their words - to leave politics. The Congress leaders insisted that the Home Minister's involvement in cooperative fund misappropriation was well-documented, and that they could provide evidence at any time.

Meanwhile, the government and two main coalition parties opposed setting up a parliamentary committee to probe into Lamichhane's alleged cooperative savings misappropriation. According to reports, the RSP chair issued a warning to his governing allies, threatening that his party would leave government if the latter agreed in forming the parliamentary probe body. Lamichhane and his party's departure from the coalition could spell disaster for the government, as the RSP, with 22 lawmakers, is critical to the government's survival.

Among other things, Lamichhane's threat appears to have influenced the government's decision not to form the panel, particularly with the UML and Maoist Centre. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and UML chair KP Sharma Oli said there was no evidence that the home minister misused cooperative savings. However, the NC has not bought the official version. It began disrupting House sessions since the day the House session was convened following the formation of the new governing coalition. At that time, Prime Minister Prachanda had broken with the NC to form a coalition with the UML, RSP, and two other parties in order to secure a House majority.

The angry NC stated that it would not allow the government to propose its policies and programmes through the President in the House on May 14. If Congress takes this action, it will be the first time in the country's legislative history that a party has prevented the President from presenting the government's policy documents. It will also not allow the government to present its annual budget on May 28 unless they can reach an agreement as soon as possible.

Sovereign forum

Instead of being regarded as a sovereign forum for representatives of the people to engage in substantive, goal-oriented discussions aimed at ensuring that the nation enacts laws appropriate for running the state's affairs for the benefit of its citizens, the Congress' position and the government's outright refusal to address the NC demand have transformed the parliament into a venue for political heavyweights to fight and display differences. It's fascinating to see how the NC and the ruling parties are blaming each other’s for the current standoff. The government has condemned the NC for acting undemocratically despite being a democratic party, while the NC blames the ruling parties for causing the current deadlock, rendering the House ineffective.

To conclude, the parties have done an injustice to our parliamentary system by preventing it from functioning in accordance with constitutional provisions. Some accused the Speaker of exacerbating the situation, but in the end, the parties who prioritised their interests are to blame for turning the House into a battleground for their political goals. All parties, including the NC and parties in the ruling alliance, share responsibility for resolving the situation. No one can avoid their responsibility to provide our parliament with a proper place for people's representatives, who must engage in advancing the interests of people and the nation.

(Upadhyay is former managing editor of this daily.)

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