Continued disruption of parliament proceedings: What impact will it have on our democracy?

In the short term, continued deadlock in parliament can be taken as a tactical move of the opposition party. But, in the long run, it will impact the entire parliamentary democracy.

(File photo/RSS)

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 5 min.

Over the past few years, Nepal’s parliament has lost its glory. It has become a platform to bargain for power. Principally, parliament should debate important national issues and make and change laws, representing people’s interests and agenda. But as things stand, political parties are using the sovereign parliament as a platform where political wrangling thrives over the people’s legitimate interests. 

Parliament has once again been witnessing deadlock after the main opposition party CPN (UML) decided to obstruct the House sessions. The main opposition party has been repeatedly obstructing the House meetings since the first meeting of the current session on September 8. Moreover, the party boycotted the all-party meeting of September 30 called by incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba—for the second time in a row after Deuba was appointed PM on July 13. 

The root cause

The primary reason behind the continuous obstruction from UML is that they are riled by both the government and the Speaker of Parliament. On August 16, the government prorogued the Session at midnight. The next day, it issued an ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act which paved the way for the party split. 

Following the ordinance, Madhav Nepal formed the CPN (Unified Socialist) and Mahantha Thakur formed the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP). UML had already sent a letter to the Parliament Secretariat demanding the removal of the 14 lawmakers, who defected to Nepal’s party from UML, from their posts. 

They have accused the Speaker of House of Representatives Agni Sapkota of playing complicit in the UML’s split. UML has not recognized the lawmakers belonging to CPN (Unified Socialist) and wants them expelled. On September 30,  UML leader Khagaraj Adhikari said after the House meeting: “UML can take part in the meetings where the Unified Socialist is absent.”

Similarly, UML chief whip Bishal Bhattarai, after the House meeting the same day, said that both the Speaker and PM can directly talk to UML leadership if the former wants to take the main opposition into confidence, and the latter wants support from the opposition.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has refused to issue an interim order on the writ petition that demands the nullification of CPN(United Socialist), which CPN-UML has sought to invalidate the position of lawmakers who defected to CPN(United Socialist) from UML.

Show of arrogance

Observers say the obstruction and boycott of meetings with such reasoning only exhibit the arrogance of UML. 

“That is the show of arrogance and ego by CPN UML as the Election Commission (EC) has already given the recognition to CPN(United Socialist),” said Tara Nath Dahal, a political observer. The President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker of the House, and Chairman of the National Assembly are the pillars of the democratic system in Nepal. In a multi-party system, disagreements are common but the parties should not undermine democratic principles if the system is to run smoothly, he further said. “The parties must take part in meetings and communicate with each other.”

According to senior journalist and writer Jagat Nepal, Nepali political parties carry hidden agendas and show double standards and the recent House obstruction is the manifestation of the same. He believes that activities like House obstruction by UML (and by other parties in the past) depict the trend of political parties claiming superiority over everything else as if without them nothing will work out well. 

Arrogant opposition is as harmful as inefficient government. Parliamentary democracy thrives only with the collective conscience of political leaders and people. 

Nepal fears that regular obstruction of the House will lead to further erosion of people’s trust in the democratic system. “Parliament is the place to discuss public issues and raise people’s voices. But, that is not happening because of the vested interests of political parties,” he added. He also mentioned that the major problem is the communication deficit that stems from activities such as House obstruction and boycotting the all-party meeting. 

Dahal, for his part, states that if the UML has serious objection with the Speaker of the House, it can bring the no-confidence motion or file an impeachment motion against him. “Obstructing the parliament means obstructing urgent and major legislative works like the budget-related ordinances and other law-making processes. This is not right,” said Dahal. “The main opposition should let parliament function and take part in the discussion. It is not logical to obstruct every House meeting. It will negatively impact Parliamentary practice.”

Moreover, boycotting the all-party meetings called by the prime minister is against the democratic culture and spirit, according to Dahal. “No matter how bitter the relationship may have been between the political parties, there should not be a condition of communication deficit. They should put forward their issues by participating in the meetings.” 

Bad legacy 

The continuous obstruction of House proceedings by CPN (UML) reminds us of the events two and half decades back. The history of the early 1990s is also the history of how, when opposition parties do not show proper political conduct in the parliamentary system, the whole system suffers. 

As UML is holding parliament hostage, the government of Sher Bahadur Deuba has not been proactive in giving business to parliament.

The Nepali Congress majority government could not last long following the continuous protests from CPN (UML)–both in the streets and the parliament. Hari Sharma, who served as principal secretary to Prime Minister GP Koirala during 1991-93, 1997-98, and 1999-2001, wrote in an article in Setopati, ‘Looking at the notes of the events which I kept during that period, I found that there was not a single month or week, in which the streets in Kathmandu were devoid of any protests.’ Finally, the NC government collapsed, and a CPN (UML) minority government was formed in 1994 which did not last even for a year. 

Soon followed the Civil War, which lasted for a decade, killing thousands of people and pushing the country into the darkness. Initially, Maoists used the malpractices of parliamentary democracy to justify insurgency. The decade-long war is also an indication of how the lack of accountability in parliament creates fertile ground for extremist forces to rise. 

As UML is holding parliament hostage, the government of Sher Bahadur Deuba has not been proactive in giving business to parliament. The Deuba government followed the bad practice set by his predecessor Oli by suddenly proroguing the House session on August 16. 

Oli, during his tenure, had issued 15 ordinances in total. All but one of them were tabled in the parliament on July 18 by the Deuba government. But the session ended, before it could pass any bills—even those important ordinances related to deterrence for acid attacks and violence against women. The month-long House session witnessed only one notable business—a vote of confidence of Sher Bahadur Deuba. A day later, the government issued an ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act. 

Analysts argue that if the Deuba government had given parliament proper business, it would have been applauded among the public. 

Political analysts agree that both the ruling and opposition parties have been undermining and weakening parliament. “Lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties seldom act on their discretion in case of discussions on crucial matters in parliament,” said Indra Adhikari, a political analyst.  

Arrogant opposition can be as harmful as inefficient governments. After all, parliamentary democracy thrives only with the collective conscience of parties and people.