Many consider it too boring, unexciting and unworthy to follow. I personally think the opposite. I am talking about Canadian politics. Overshadowed by its powerful ally on the south border and with global attention focused on few super powers striving for more hegemony in an evolving and shifting geopolitical order, Canada hardly makes the headlines. What a pity!
After all Canada is a member of G7 that, though hardly representative of an increasingly more diverse international community, is still an important forum for liberal democracies. It is a country that achieved in the past high economic growth, espousing both a form of capitalism influenced by the US and a more caring welfare approach not dissimilar from European welfare model.
In addition, its Prime Minister, Justine Trudeau, a progressive liberal, sort of center of the left party, despite many controversies at home, has empowered a bold feminist foreign policy overseas. Instead of cutting foreign aid, Canada has been championing it and this is something noteworthy.
Nepal could learn something from Canada. In particular I am referring to some insights that Rastriya Swatantra Party led by Rabi Lamichhane could take from the land of maples and ice hockey.
Canadian model, with some twists, can be also applicable to Nepal, a way for RSP to support the current coalition government led by Prime Minister Dahal without losing its status as opposition party. Instead of staying outside the cabinet and pledging in very general terms to back the coalition in power, something that does not inspire trust and never works, RSP could strike a confidence and supply agreement with the government based on the fulfillment of a specific political agenda.
Such arrangement is what keeps alive the minority government of Prime Minister Trudeau in Ottawa thanks to the external support of the New Democratic Party mostly known as the New Democrats, a more left leaning, social democratic outfit.
In a confidence and supply agreement, a party of the opposition, in this case the New Democrats, agrees to vote any confidence vote against the governing liberals, guaranteeing in this way, its survival. This is the “confidence” aspect of the equation.
The New Democrats also pledges to vote the annual budget, (the supply aspect of the pact) being tabled by Trudeau’s party every year. In return, the Liberals commits to implement certain legislations demanded by the NDP. The current arrangement between the two parties theoretically would allow the Liberals to govern until the next election in 2025 though you always have to consider some unpredictability and uncertainty.
So far, the popular leader of the New Democrats, Jagmeet Singh, showed resolution in demanding accountability from the Liberals especially in taking actions to support the welfare and wellbeing of the most vulnerable segments of the Canadian population. At the same time, circumstances and political expediency also force both sides to exercise restraints and common sense in their bargaining.
That’s because, at the end of the day, a successful confidence and supply agreement is really about two things: one smart bargaining and second, a commitment to sticking to any deals coming out of such process. The NDP remains in the opposition and in many circumstances the party does not hesitate from harshly criticizing the government.
You could get an idea of it from a recent interview. Jagmeet Singh gave and he could not be clearer.
“We always have the right, if the government breaks any conditions of the agreement, if they don’t follow through with what we forced them to agree to, we have then the power or the option of withdrawing our support,” he said. What counts, at the end of the day, is the willingness and commitment of the party in power to fulfill the key demands agreed that allow it to continue to remain in power.
Now back to Nepal.
Could make sense for the RSP to be the NDP’s of Nepalis politics?
For example, while many have criticized the former for lack of political coherence, in short, a lack of a clear political philosophy, fighting corruption is a top priority for the party. In order to secure its backing, Prime Minister Dahal could provide a written guarantee about revising the existing anti-corruption legislation that is being discussed these days. It means doing away with a statute of limitations and also a clause to enlist the private sector and other stakeholders in the purview of the CIAA, the national anti-graft body.
After all, if you think about it, corruption is embedded in the society. It can be facilitated or enabled by state actors but at the end of the day, it is always the result of a deal between two parties. Another agenda that the RSP could demand in a Napali version of a confidence and supply agreement is the Federal Education Bill. It is something that RSP with its former education minister, Shishir Khanal, had worked a lot on and RSP have a unique expertise on it.
Now they could be in a position to make it a reality in the way they think it is in the best interest of millions of children and their parents. The same can be said also for health care with the creation of a truly national health care system that also includes a strong regulation of the private hospitals. For example, one of the key points of the existing “partnership” between Liberal and New Democrats in Canada is the creation of a dental care system that is affordable for the public. For me, from the perspective of the NDP in Canada, a confidence and supply agreement is a bit like having a cake and eating it as well.
The pact that Trudeau and Singh signed on does not come out of blue. Instead, it is part of a tradition of cooperation in a system where minority governments are the norm. It is a very pragmatic approach to governing that can work in the best interests of the voters though there is always a risk involved: It is based on trust that underpins it and it can survive and help deliver legislations but it can also break down.
To try to limit this latter option, the formal agreement between the Liberals and New Democrats also includes periodic and regular meetings among their senior staffs and MPs. Provided that there is honesty and real trust among the leaders signing such accord, something we cannot really take for granted, it makes sense.
Once again, let’s not forget, they do not need to become too cozy or best friends. You are out of the government and you have total freedom to unleash your criticism towards it and at the same time, you exert a lot of influence over it because its survival really depends on your votes.
From a government’s perspective, it is certainly an annoyance and an irritation but we all know that politics is the art of compromise and you never have permanent enemies and this is so true in Nepal. Having a confidence and supply agreement could be a very smart move for the RSP. It is a move that would allow also the party to build a national footprint while “remote-controlling” a coalition that risks, once again, to go nowhere in terms of tangible outcomes for the benefit of the people.
Views are personal.