The first session of the second Parliament which started on September 11 and due to close on October 1 has been an interesting and revealing one.
The Parliament session took place in the context of a stronger and more experienced opposition party and a new ruling party representing change but still relatively inexperienced.
This was visible as the talking points during discussions in Parliament were driven by the 15-member opposition party than the 32- member ruling party.
The Opposition, though smaller in number, had the advantage of having eight former ministers and also other experienced MPs who used their experience and Parliamentary skills to seize the advantage on more than one occasion.
From the ruling party- it was mainly the Prime Minister and Home Minister doing a lot of the fire fighting along with a few other ministers and MPs, but the majority of the 32 MPs seemed unprepared for the Opposition onslaught.
The Opposition had clearly done its homework and came prepared on all issues from the budget to the RAA report. It also showed a clear and aggressive political strategy in the Parliament that put the government on the mat on several issues discussed in the Parliament.
The ruling party, on the other hand, was clearly not expecting an aggressive opposition party and did not come as well prepared as they spent more than half the time answering questions raised by the Opposition.
PDP MPs, supporters and even some neutral commentators felt that an experienced opposition party was being unfair and overly aggressive on a barley two- month old government.
This point is true- to a certain extent, but then again the ruling party has to recognize that the opposition party, given its very nature and mandate to check the government, will
point out the flaws of the government and in doing so- score political points.
In the big picture, it will be more accurate to judge the performance of the new government in the Parliament only by the third or fourth session out of the 10 sessions- when PDP ministers and MPs get a better grip on issues and gain more confidence.
However, the opening session is also important as it is an introductory look at the new ruling party and opposition party, and it could also set the tone for the upcoming Parliament sessions and establish the nature of political relationship between the government and the Opposition.
What’s became clear from the first session of the Parliament is that the Opposition has a clear eye set for the 2018 polls, and is following a twin strategy of showing the flaws of the government and in offering itself as an alternative.
The Opposition cornered the government on three main areas in the first session. Using the question-hour time, the Opposition badgered the government over its 100 days promises- some of which are expected to take a longer time to fulfill. It also gave the government grief over the annual budget and some aspects of the annual RAA report. Finally, the Opposition which is not in favor of the RTI Bill ‘supported’ the unsure ruling party to kick the RTI can down the road to a second session.
An important force multiplier that worked in favour of the Opposition’s views going to the masses was the surprisingly detailed coverage and analysis of the first session by the National Broadcaster and Radio which has the widest reach among both rural and urban audiences. For example, the passing of the budget and the discussions of the annual RAA report is usually a tame media affair, but this time around the bigger Opposition’s views were given importance and there were detailed separate and critical discussions programs in addition to the live coverage and news broadcasts.
The coverage, by focusing on the Opposition’s raised issues, also set the tone for discussions in Parliament and in some cases even drowned out the new government’s presentations.
All in all, the Opposition has come out on the top in the first session with a more aggressive and well- coordinated strategy both inside and outside the Parliament.
However, a word of caution here is that the Opposition could also suffer a backlash in being overly aggressive with a fledging new government that still enjoys broad public support. There are already some voices in the social media questioning the opposition party’s overtly aggressive tactics.
That being said, the performance of the new government could have been much better if its MPs had done more homework and had come prepared for a more aggressive opposition.
While the Opposition highlighted supposed flaws in the first annual budget and said it was smaller than the last budget of the DPT government, the PDP was not as successful in communicating that the first budget of any government including DPT’s is always the smallest. Therefore, comparisons with a much larger last year budget of DPT are not technically correct.
It was amazing to see how a RAA report that highlighted irregularities during the DPT government’s tenure got used against PDP itself.
One key point was on DPT questioning how PDP’s Foreign Minister was given an audit clearance for some issues as the Haa Dzongda. PDP, on its part, went on the defensive and instead failed to adequately highlight how the former DPT MoIC Minister had been given an audit clearance for much more serious 7 direct audit observations with regard to the disastrous domestic airports.
The PDP government was partly put into a corner by DPT for its overtly ambitious 100 days promises though, at times, the demands made were unreasonable.
During the 2013 elections- of the many issues one of the key reasons why voters supported PDP and not DPT was that the former supported RTI while the latter was not entirely in favour of it.
However, the final RTI Bill with its highly restrictive clauses showed that PDP’s heart was not in a strong RTI Bill and its decision to push the Bill to a second session while allowing for more discussion on a much discussed seven-year old bill showed indecisiveness in decision making. DPT seemed to also win this round partly convincing PDP that the Bill could do more harm than good.
While it is important to have a strong opposition party, it is even more important to have a strong and decisive government in the national interest. While it is still too early to make a judgment call- the PDP government will also not get any honeymoon period with a strong Opposition willing to show the any flaws and weaknesses in the relatively new and inexperienced government. The government also has to take on big challenges facing the nation.
The previous DPT government, despite its flaws, stamped its authority on the system from day one. In the case of the new government- so far the Opposition won the first round in the Parliament and within the executive branch, the senior bureaucracy still has a lot of say in deciding even the day to day issues.
During the 2013 election campaigns, PDP was nowhere close to DPT- in terms of campaign resources, planning, and implementation. However, the strong desire for change and the mistakes of the DPT government played a major role in PDP still triumphing.
The government should recognize this and get its act together as some early hiccups will be forgiven and forgotten by the people, but eventually it will have no option but to improve its performance as it gains more experience and implements fresh ideas.
“Writing laws is easy, but governing is difficult.” Leo Tolstoy