Shadow and substance

  • The shadow government needs to know its purpose to be effective

May 23, 2019-

Forming a shadow cabinet is a common feature of the British parliamentary system. Here at home, Manmohan Adhikari, a prominent leader of the erstwhile CPN-UML had formed a shadow government when Girija Prasad Koirala from the Nepali Congress was the prime minister in 1995. Currently, the Nepal Communist Party is in government and the Nepali Congress is the main opposition. But ever since the government took office, the opposition has been virtually absent. Opposing is critical to forge better policies, indulge in arguments and keep the government on its toes. Perhaps realising its role as the opposition, the Nepali Congress has decided to form a shadow government with its own cabinet that will parallel that of the ruling party. With this move, it seems like the Nepali Congress has finally woken up from its deep slumber and is ready to take on the government.

The shadow cabinet to be formed by the Nepali Congress under the leadership of the party president Sher Bahadur will have 58 members, more than double the number of ministers in the Cabinet. In the shadow cabinet, one ministry is to be headed by three ministers. The basic tenet of democracy is that no government, whatever be the size of the majority in Parliament, can get away with autocratic and arbitrary decisions at the whims of its leader. Every bill and every action of the government needs to be debated in Parliament and closely scrutinised. And this task should be primarily done by the opposition. However, given the size of the shadow cabinet--which is twice the size of the Cabinet--it looks like the party president is more interested in appeasing the party loyalists rather than working towards presenting themselves as a constructive opposition. Deuba does not look serious and has failed to learn from his past errors. The last time Sher Bahadur Deuba served as the prime minister, he was infamous for forming the largest ever cabinet in Nepal’s history--having employed 30 cabinet ministers and 24 state ministers.

Talks of forming a shadow government began some five months ago. But because Congress as a party seems to be divided, and party members are known to have issues with the party leadership, the process took a long time to take shape. A shadow cabinet would help the party to develop capable leaders who could conduct an informed debate, along with offering alternative programmes. For example, the government recently unveiled its programmes and policies for the fiscal year 2019-20. Following this, it will be presenting its annual budget soon. This would be an opportune moment for the shadow cabinet to dissect the recently unveiled programmes and policies of the government and indulge in wider deliberations before the budget has been presented. That way, the opposition can play a proactive role and make the government realise that merely having a brute majority in Parliament does not give it a free hand to do as they wish. If the shadow cabinet performs well, it would only help strengthen democracy.

Published: 23-05-2019 10:07

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