A hung parliament with a third-placed party leading a shaky coalition, and the lawmakers of the party with the most number of seats sulking on the opposition benches. Thus convened the first session of the House of Representatives on Monday.
The whole affair was unremarkable and offered little to be optimistic about—not even the address by Rabi Lamichhane, home minister and leader of Rastriya Swatantra Party, the flag bearer of independent political force, could elevate the mood.
The Nov 20 parliamentary election has produced a fractured mandate, and it is up to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of CPN (Maoist Center) to figure out the course of action while also making sure the coalition does not break. Dahal knows what he is up against.
He rightly pointed out that his government would be tested and judged based on its delivery of good governance. He talked about bringing genuine change in people’s lives, but offered no prescriptions.
The prime minister’s address didn’t instill hope. Perhaps, he was being honest, because it would be a folly to presume that the next five years will be stable. As part of a power-sharing deal, Dahal has agreed to cede the office of the prime minister to the CPN-UML after 2.5 years.
Opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba’s address was dull and generic. The former prime minister appeared subdued and said that his party, Nepali Congress, would play a constructive role as an opposition.
Leaders of all major political parties stuck to general political speech, covering commonplace topics, like challenges faced by the country, the need for good governance and about honoring people’s aspiration of real change.
The topic of stable government remained the unaddressed elephant in the room. But plenty of inferences could be drawn.
UML leader KP Oli, for instance, cautioned Prime Minister Dahal about the bumpy road ahead. In a veiled reference to the NC, he also said that breaking the current coalition would be unwise.
Oli telling the parties not to engage in power game and be united for the sake of the country was him pointing at the current political mess and volatility of the coalition government—it was not an appeal.
More tellingly and rather inauspiciously, the UML leader also brought up his own experience as a prime minister and his two unsuccessful attempts at dissolving the previous parliament. He not only defended his move, he also chided the parties who opposed him as regressive elements.
The regressive elements Oli was talking about included his current coalition partner Maoist, the opposition NC, and UML splinter CPN (Unified Socialist). Clearly, none was pleased with Oli’s remarks, while the UML lawmakers banged their desks in approval.
NC General Secretary Gagan Thapa later told the media that Oli’s claim over his move to dissolve the previous parliament could once again tear the Maoists and UML apart. Noting that the two communist forces have entered a coalition partnership without addressing the major bone of contention that broke them up last time, Thapa said that the very issue could sow division in the future.
There is not much for people to hope from a divided parliament and unstable government. All in all, it’s business as usual in Nepali politics.