Has the Opposition turned weak?

With the Opposition remaining mum on a number of issues that raised up dust in recent times, and the resignation of the former OL, people are of the perception that it has become weak

The Opposition Party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), has been unusually quiet and reticent about a gamut of issues on the country’s state of affairs, drawing criticisms from various quarters. Some feel that with the resignation of the former Opposition Leader, the party has become weak.

Issues on duty free outlets selling tobacco, relocation of Centenary Farmers Market (CFM), Home Minister’s court case and political nomination of Tenzin Lekphell for the post of Secretary-General of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) were cited as some of the infamous decisions of the government which people thought that the Opposition would oppose.

However, Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi justified the Opposition’s seeming non-reaction stating that the party has been doing a lot both inside and outside the Parliament.

“I chair the Parliamentary Joint Committee on COVID-19 and we have been doing everything in our capacity to aid and support the government during this pandemic”, he said. He clarified that the Opposition’s focus has been on maintaining national unity and solidarity during this difficult hour. “Despite that we have raised issues with the government when needed,” he said.

He further stressed that though on certain issues the Opposition did not raise their voice in public, behind the scene, the party has been keeping track of the government’s actions and performing its constitutional duty.

Former National Assembly Speaker Jigme Zangpo, currently serving as the General Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said it is the sacred constitutional responsibility as a registered political party to support and cooperate when the government makes good policy decisions and when wrong instead of merely to criticize to provide alternatives like PDP did on the CFM issue.

“PDP as the Opposition took the government to the court in 2012 when executive order issued over-ruled the laws enacted by the Parliament. DNT as a party outside the Parliament filed the case against the government on the then BOiC. Petition was dismissed by the court because of locus standi. The past records show how criticism, attacks and press releases made by the Opposition, NC and media on PDP were taken constructively,” he added.

Former Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji of PDP said that the role of the Opposition Party is clearly spelt out under Article 18 of the Constitution. “The Opposition has a sacred duty to ensure that the government functions in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, make the government responsible, accountable and transparent, and not allow party interests to prevail over national interests.” 

“Of the various responsibilities, the role of the Opposition to render effective check and balance to the government is the most important.  In this regard, the Opposition must question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. Failure to provide an effective check and balance is a breach of its constitutional duty as required under Article 18,” he said.

He added that when the Opposition fails to live up to the expectations of the people, they have failed in their constitutional duty to the people, and therefore have no moral right to be in the Parliament. “And more so, if the Opposition Party puts party interests over national interests and neglects its constitutional duty to the people and the country, thereby compromising the very security and sovereignty of the nation, then it may even be liable for treason,” he said.  

He also mentioned: “Therefore, if the people feel that the current Opposition is not living up to their expectations, then the Opposition must conduct some serious introspection to regain the confidence of the people.  Similarly, the media must, at all times, be vigilant about how these important constitutional bodies perform their functions as provided in the Constitution, just as they review the functions of the government.  It is equally important for people to judge the performance of the Opposition just as they judge the performance of the government – both have equally important responsibilities under the Constitution.”

What the people say?

A political observer said that the Opposition needs to be more proactive in terms of critically evaluating the activities of the government since it is the first one and, often, the best one to know about government activities. It should not wait for public reaction to the government’s actions.

A civil servant and a keen political observer based in Samdrup Jongkhar said that everyone is benefitting themselves only. “The government is doing everything to benefit themselves only. They don’t ask the Home Minister to resign as a show of respect for the rule of law in the country. The Opposition does not sue the government for breaking the Tobacco Control Act,” he said, “So everyone is running a fine line like a staged drama while everybody already knows what they can do and what they cannot do. It’s not really about what they want to do or what they can do. The question is are we really having the freedom of being a democratic nation?” he said.

A former senior journalist, currently pursuing studies in Pennsylvania, said the ruling party seems to have forgotten their goals and objectives and does not know where it is heading, does not know what are their priorities and what they want to achieve at the end of the term, partly due to the pandemic. “There are a lot of issues that need immediate attention. Equally disoriented, the Opposition party seems to not know which issues to prioritize, which issues they should ask the government to address due to current times and recent change in leadership. Both of these indicate lack of leadership and management skills.” he said.

Media professional Kunga Tenzin Dorji said that during the COVID, everybody should stand united instead of nitpicking issues and the Opposition might probably be doing that but if it is non-COVID issues, maybe the Opposition can and should make a stand. Veteran journalist and author Gopilal Acharya said that there are certain issues where the government and the Opposition can agree on and that is not wrong. “It is not always necessary to disagree and it happens across the world,” he said.