Major parties continue culture of obstructing parliamentary proceedings
At present, several vital bills languish in the Federal Parliament awaiting approval. In the lineup, there is a bill seeking to amend the Prevention of Money Laundering Act-2008, another aiming to reshape the Truth and Reconciliation Act, and a comprehensive bill to revise dozens of laws.
This parliamentary logjam underscores a larger issue of functional hindrance. But it does not stop there. The vision for Nepal's federal structures hinges on the formulation of pertinent laws, yet progress seems mired in stagnation. Altogether there are 25 crucial bills stuck in both houses of the Federal Parliament.
For a month now, the main opposition, CPN-UML, has obstructed the parliament proceedings demanding for a high-level investigation panel to look into the gold smuggling case from Tribhuvan International Airport. The ruling parties have refused to form such a panel, deepening the impasse.
The déjà vu of stalled parliamentary proceedings is not new. Over the years, Nepal's Parliament has become a pawn in the hands of a select few top leaders from major parties—CPN-UML, Nepali Congress, and CPN (Maoist Center). In this precarious power dynamic, ordinances have emerged as a crutch for lawmaking in the absence of parliamentary cooperation.
Critics decry Nepal's Parliament as a rubber stamp wielded by a handful of influential leaders. The casualty in this power play is the legislative process itself, casting a shadow over the primary function of Parliament. Only one citizenship-related bill and a handful of budget-related bills have crossed the parliamentary threshold since the general elections of December last year.
The parliamentary speaker's role, too, has been controversial in recent years. Past speakers Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Agni Sapkota faced accusations of partisan bias, foregoing impartiality. The strained relationship between former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Speaker Sapkota reached its zenith when the latter refused to present America's Millennium Corporation Challenge agreement in Parliament. Current Speaker Dev Raj Ghimire is also under scrutiny for favoring his party, UML, rather than playing the role of a non-partisan arbiter.
The level playing field within Parliament has tilted toward the gravitational pull of political parties. Everyday parliamentary proceedings now rest on the tripartite consensus among Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of Maoist Center, Sher Bahadur Deuba of NC, and KP Sharma Oli of UML. Meanwhile, smaller parties have seen their influence marginalized.
Top-tier agreements made in Baluwatar among the leaders of these three major parties become binding for Parliament. The speaker's role in mitigating the parliamentary impasse has turned ineffectual.
The art of obstructing Parliament, it appears, has been perfected to a science. A recurrent tactic involves ransoming the legislative process only to agree to its resumption following opaque pacts sealed at Baluwatar. One striking instance revolves around UML's stranglehold on the House, catalyzed by Prime Minister Dahal's remarks concerning an Indian businessman interceding with New Delhi to make him premier. After days of deadlock, UML relented only when Dahal clarified his statements.
This hostage-taking of Parliament by a select few leaders has silenced the voices of lawmakers on critical national matters. The formation of high-level panels and other pressing issues remain stalled as lawmakers are denied their platform.
Experts insist on a lasting solution, suggesting that parties commit to a shared resolution.
Political analyst Geja Sharma Wagle calls for a need to break the cycle of parliament obstruction through commitment among parties to preserve the sanctity of Parliament as a platform for substantive discourse. He says Parliament should be a place for deliberation amidst disagreement.
Subas Nembang, former speaker and UML leader, contends that Nepal's constitution and parliamentary rules failed to anticipate such standstills. While obstruction is not expressly accounted for in legislative provisions, he defends his party’s move by citing a parliamentary precedent for the tactic. Nembang posits that while not explicitly codified, this system obliges the government to address opposition demands when effectively presented.
Daman Nath Dhungana, another former speaker, says the Constituent Assembly's efforts to issue a new constitution have inadvertently sowed the seeds of parliamentary dysfunction. The stranglehold of three dominant political players lives on, perpetuating an environment where political maneuvering takes precedence over governance.
The bad legacy continues, adds Dhungana, with current priorities seeming to center around preserving government, exemplified by Prime Minister Dahal's focus.
The stalemate does not solely impact the full House; it cascades down to the Parliamentary Committees as well. Regarded as mini parliaments, these committees are now relegated to the sidelines, lacking both leadership and a clear agenda. The challenge deepens as committee members grapple with a lack of expertise within their working domains.
The very foundation of democratic governance stands challenged by a recurring cycle of obstruction and partisan strife, which threatens to undermine the nation's progress. It is a disservice committed by the three major parties to the people.
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