The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the main opposition Nepali Congress are on a collision course. The NCP leaders accuse their Congress counterparts of rank opportunism—Congress did precious little on medical education reform when it was leading the government, the accusation goes, but has overnight morphed into an ardent advocate of the fasting Dr Govinda KC. The other accusation is that Congress is trying to subvert the authority of a democratically-elected government by obstructing parliament and protesting in banned areas. They argue that five months are nearly not enough to judge this government.Congress leaders contend that they cannot be mute spectators even when the government has put the country on a slippery slope to full-blown authoritarianism, by for instance declaring popular protest places as ‘no go’ areas and by empowering the ‘medial mafia’ by watering down the medical education ordinance brought by the previous Congress government. There are other bones of contention too. The constitution requires that speaker and deputy speaker of the federal parliament and well as the seven provincial parliaments be from different parties, but in six of the seven provinces NCP holds both the positions. The appointments to constitutional bodies made by the previous Congress government have been cancelled and social security measures it introduced rolled back—and hence the current standoff.
But what will these protests by opposition parties led by Congress—with Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti even asking for Prime Minister KP Oli’s resignation—amount to?
“It is true that the performance of this government has been disappointing thus far,” says political analyst and former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel. “But I also don’t think there are enough legitimate grounds for resignation.”
Pokharel credits Oli for trying to bring a “semblance of order” in governance, something that has been missing in Nepal since the 1990 change, “but the way the government has gone about achieving this order is wrong.”
But does he see enough reasons to fear autocracy? “The tendency is there. The biggest cause for concern right now is that the executive has become extremely powerful while the two other organs of the state are weak. This in turn has destabilized the principle of check and balance,” Pokharel replies.
Ominously, with the ruling communist party all-powerful and the main opposition in Nepali Congress at its weakest historically, they have no incentive to listen to one another.