Civil society vows to protest until Sapkota’s nomination for Speaker is dismissedAgni Sapkota, who is accused of murder, is certain to become Speaker of the House as he is running unopposed.
Now that Agni Sapkota has filed his candidacy for Speaker of the House of Representatives, civil society, human rights activists and conflict victims came out in force on Wednesday to protest the Nepal Communist Party fielding someone accused of murder for such a sensitive and high-level position in the state apparatus.
Sapkota is all but certain to be elected Speaker as he is running unopposed, with the primary opposition Nepali Congress refusing to field a candidate of its own. Sapkota, who is accused of murder of teacher Arjun Lama during the 10-year insurgency, will be announced the next Speaker on Sunday. The post of Speaker had been vacant ever since Krishna Bahadur Mahara resigned in October after allegations of attempted rape.
Although Sapkota had long been in the conversation regarding the next Speaker, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was in favour of two-time chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Subas Nembang. Sapkota was Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s choice for Speaker.
Despite Sapkota being in the running for over a month, there was not so much as a statement from human rights activists, who agreed that their demonstrations had started late.
“We have always spoken out against the wrongdoings of the government and the ruling party,” Kapil Shrestha, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “However, I do agree that we were late to start a demonstration this time around.”
Dozens of human rights activists, civil society members and victims of the decade-long Maoist insurgency gathered in Maitighar Mandala on Wednesday demanding the revocation of Sapkota’s candidacy. They say that it is absurd that someone accused of murder will be filling in a position vacated by another following attempted rape allegations.
Sapkota is accused of masterminding the murder of Lama, chairperson of the Shree Krishna Secondary School in Kavrepalanchok, in April 2005. A case filed by Lama’s wife Purni Maya against seven perpetrators, including Sapkota and Nepal Communist Party leader Suyra Man Dong, is at the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.
According to Shrestha, human rights activists had not expected the ruling party to stoop this low by ignoring reservations from a wide section of society.
“A series of actions by the government and the ruling party shows that they are under an illusion that they are free to do everything,” he said. “This is primarily because of an incompetent opposition. But civil society should also take the blame for failing to strongly raise issues.”
Nepal’s civil society had long been at the forefront of numerous popular movements for democracy, especially the 1990 movement against the Panchayat and the 2006 movement against king Gyanendra. However, it has largely been passive ever since a new constitution was promulgated and elections were held. Despite the ruling Nepal Communist Party introducing a series of controversial bills that many say are aimed at curtailing freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, civil society has failed to voice its dissent.
Regarding Speaker’s post, a group of civil society members on January 16 issued a statement expressing concern largely over the parliamentary impasse. Due to the indecision of the ruling communist party, scheduled House meetings had failed to commenced.
Without naming any names, the statement, undersigned by 17 civil society members representing different fields, said that the position of Speaker should be filled by “a capable Member of Parliament who has high moral standing, is trusted by the public and eligible under existing laws, as well as someone who does not have cases pending in the courts and who is able to provide able parliamentary leadership.”
The statement came four days before the ruling party decided to propose Sapkota as the new Speaker.
Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker himself and a prominent member of civil society, said that first, it is the role of the opposition to oppose the government’s regressive actions.
“Generally, civil society only comes into play during the transition, not when there is political stability,” Dhungana said. “However, when the opposition is ineffective, civil society must come to the forefront, which has already begun.”
Many say that civil society and human rights defenders have been politically coopted and given positions in government. Civil society members, however, argue that the older generation has taken a step back but the new generation has yet to come forward.
“Therefore, civil society seems to have lost its direction and become defunct,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, director of Amnesty International Nepal. “The new generation is not very concerned about these issues, even though they will have a large impact on their lives.”
But civil society members say that Wednesday’s protest is just the beginning and they will continue to build pressure from the streets. They plan to take the case to the Supreme Court, if it comes to that.
“We might have started late but we are not going to give up until we attain our goal,” said Raju Chapagain, a human rights lawyer.