Conflict victims and human rights activists cry foul over Agni Sapkota for SpeakerSapkota, who faces a murder charge for an insurgency-era killing, has been proposed for House Speaker by the ruling party.
A Secretariat meeting of the Nepal Communist Party on Sunday decided to propose Agni Sapkota, a Standing Committee member, for the post of Speaker.
“Today’s Secretariat meeting unanimously decided to field two-time minister and lawmaker from Sindhupalchok Sapkota for the post of Speaker,” Bishnu Poudel, general secretary of the party, told the Post after the Secretariat meeting on Sunday evening.
The decision to propose Sapkota as Speaker comes a day after the ruling and opposition parties reached a deal on appointing candidates of their choice to the two transitional justice commissions that are entrusted with investigating conflict-era cases.
Sapkota is currently facing a murder charge for the killing of Arjun Lama in Kavre during the 10-year insurgency.
The Speaker post has been vacant since early October last year after Krishna Bahadur Mahara stepped down following allegations of attempted rape.
Monday’s meeting of the House of Representatives is expected to start the process of electing the new Speaker, and Sapkota is all but certain to be elected as the ruling party holds a comfortable majority.
Sapkota’s candidacy for Speaker, however, has already drawn criticism from conflict victims and rights defenders, given the murder charge.
According to activists, it is morally wrong on the part of the ruling party to propose Sapkota as Speaker given the murder charge pending at the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court. The bench is scheduled to hear the case on February 5.
“Since the case is pending in a court of law, legally we cannot speak on the ruling party’s decision to propose Sapkota as Speaker,” said Charan Prasai, a human rights activist and coordinator of Accountability Watch, a rights organisation. “But if we believe in the rule of law and are against impunity, he is not fit for the post.”
Sapkota has been a member of the Maoist party since 1995. A year later, in 1996, the party launched an armed rebellion against the state. Arjun Lama was kidnapped and murdered on April 29, 2005 at the height of the insurgency, allegedly by Sapkota and Surya Man Dong, another Maoist leader.
After the peace deal in 2006 ended the insurgency, Sapkota contested both Constituent Assembly elections, in 2008 and 2013, from Sindhupalchok Constituency-2 and won. He also won the 2017 parliamentary elections from Sindhupalchok-1.
Sapkota served as minister for information and communication in 2011 and minister for forest and soil conservation in 2015.
It was during his stint as the communication minister that a group of human rights defenders had filed a petition at the Supreme Court for the conflict-era abduction and murder of Lama. Purnimaya Lama, Lama’s wife, had also filed a separate petition after the district police refused to register her case against the Maoist leader.
Nepali human rights defenders and the international community have long been demanding that Nepal investigate the Maoists’ role in the killing and ensure justice for war-era abuses by concluding the transitional justice process.
But Nepal’s transitional justice process has been dragging on, as it has been heavily politicised, which rights defenders say will only promote impunity.
“Do we really want to end impunity? Does Sapkota’s selection reflect the true spirit of democracy?” said Prasai. “Such kinds of decision cannot be tolerated in a democracy because it is against democratic norms. Such moves will only promote impunity.”
Poudel, the ruling party’s general secretary, however, defended the Secretariat’s decision to propose Sapkota and rebuffed all charges against him as baseless.
“There is no case pending against Sapkota. He is an eligible candidate for Speaker,” Poudel told the Post on Sunday evening. “He is an elected people’s representative and he became a minister twice in the past.”
Conflict victims, who decried the political parties’ Saturday decision to place officials in the transitional justice commissions, told the Post that the ruling party has undermined constitutional practice and democratic norms by proposing Sapkota.
“The ruling party has hurt the sentiments of thousands of conflict victims and challenged the state’s commitments to human rights,” said Suman Adhikari, founding chairperson of the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform. Adhikari’s father was also murdered by the Maoists during the insurgency.
According to a ruling party leader who has close relations with Dahal, former UML leaders, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, agreed on Sapkota as Speaker after Maoist leaders managed to get all those who might speak against Sapkota on board. The case against Sapkota will possibly be sent to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the parties have conveniently stationed their own men, said the leader.
The next hearing of the Constitutional Bench is likely to decide whether a regular court should deal with Sapkota’s case or if it should be dealt with by transitional justice commissions.
On May 20, 2011, the Supreme Court had issued a show-cause notice to the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministries of Home and Communication why Sapkota should not be removed from the post of communications minister.
Last week, 17 civil society members, while expressing concern over the ongoing House impasse, had cautioned the ruling party to pick an individual for the Speaker post who has high moral standing, who is trusted by the public, and is eligible under existing laws.
The next Speaker should be someone who does not have cases pending in courts and who is able to provide able parliamentary leadership, the civil society leaders had said.
The ruling party’s Sunday decision effectively put an end to the prospects of Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe becoming the Speaker.
Tumbahangphe had been staking a claim to the post of Speaker but the ruling party leadership was reluctant to give her the post and had instead asked her to resign.
Oli had long been in favour of two-time Constituent Assembly chair Subas Nembang for Speaker while Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had been making a pitch for Sapkota.