Onus on Speaker Sapkota to fix broken House of Representatives, observers sayAs the presiding officer of the legislative body, they say the Speaker should take the initiative to defuse the situation.
The main opposition, CPN-UML, has resorted to the obstruction of both houses of the federal parliament to protest Speaker Agni Sapkota’s refusal to strip 14 of its defecting lawmakers of their parliamentary status.
The UML had been raising the issue well before the first meeting of the ongoing session of Parliament and many had anticipated the party to obstruct the parliamentary proceedings.
Amid escalating enmity between the main opposition and the Speaker, observers say the latter, as the presiding officer of the legislative body, should be taking the initiative to diffuse the situation. But that has not happened.
Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker and civil society leader, says the way Sapkota is conducting himself is unbecoming of a Speaker.
“The Speaker should be taking steps to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament,” said Dhungana.
In conventional practice, the Speaker convenes the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee of Parliament ahead of a new House session. The committee meeting is crucial in resolving the differences related to the House proceedings.
However, Sapkota hasn’t called the meeting yet, nor has he held any dialogue with the main opposition to resolve the ongoing differences.
On Thursday, the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act, 2017, was introduced amid sloganeering from the main opposition. Marshal were deployed to stop the protesting lawmakers from obstructing the House session.
The same scene repeated on Friday as well. Finance Minister Janardan Sharma presented three replacement bills related to the national budget amid intense opposition uproar and heavy presence of marshals guarding the parliament well.
The next House meeting has been called for Sunday. The session is most likely to discuss the replacement bills.
However, Speaker Sapkota still does not seem in a mood to hold a dialogue with the UML, which is the largest party in the Parliament.
“I have no information if the Speaker has taken any initiative to call the Business Advisory Committee meeting or have dialogue with the main opposition,” Roj Nath Pandey, spokesperson at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “I think the House will continue in the present fashion even on Sunday.”
The UML on August 17 had recommended to the Speaker to dismiss the 14 lawmakers claiming that they conspired to split the party.
However, Sapkota waited until the UML split and the dissenting group formed CPN (Unified Socialist) to announce on August 29 that it was not necessary to take action against the 14 lawmakers as they had already formed a new party.
The UML has accused Speaker Sapkota of conspiring with the ruling party alliance to split the party. The party has also challenged Sapkota's decision in the Supreme Court.
According to Surya Kiran Gurung, a former general secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, this is just the second time in Nepal’s parliamentary history where the House has been obstructed over the question of impartiality of the Speaker.
In 1995, the UML, which was in the opposition aisle at the time as well, had questioned the impartiality of then Speaker Ram Chandra Poudel and obstructed the House proceedings.
“I think the present confrontation is another episode of the souring relationship between KP Sharma Oli’s UML and Speaker Sapkota,” Gurung told the Post. “It is the UML which is stretching the issue but both sides are responsible for the present situation.”
Friction between Sapkota and UML chair Oli stemmed from the time the former was recommended to the post of Speaker.
When the Speaker’s position was vacant after the resignation of Krishna Bahadur Mahara in October 2019 over a rape allegation, Oli, who at the time was prime minister and chairperson of then Nepal Communist Party (NCP), wanted a person of his choice on the Speaker’s seat.
However, CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was another chair of the NCP at the time, wanted the Speaker’s job for Sapkota. Dahal prevailed over Oli, as the two leaders had previously agreed that the Speaker’s position would go to the CPN (Maoist Centre).
While Oli relented, his displeasure with Sapkota was visible, both in his remarks and actions. He didn’t even consult Sapkota while summoning or proroguing the House session.
Throughout Oli’s term as prime minister, he had a fractious relationship with Speaker Sapkota, who in turn made no efforts to hide his disdain towards the former.
In an unprecedented move, Speaker Sapkota returned the nominations made by the Constitutional Council to various constitutional bodies. He even went on to file a writ petition against Oli and the Office of the President over the appointments.
The mutual dislike between Oli and Sapkota further escalated after the split in the NCP following the February 7 Supreme Court verdict.
The Oli government refused to provide business to the House while Sapkota’s aide complained Oli was trying to treat Parliament as a subordinate body of the government.
“There is no denying that the UML is resorting to House obstruction by raising a sub-judice issue. But it is the Speaker who should be taking the initiative to appease the dissenting party,” said Dhungana, the former House Speaker.
Rule 21 of the Parliament Regulations says except when the House is discussing a proposal to scrap any decision by the House or Speaker, no decision by the House and the Speaker can be criticised. It also bars discussion on sub judice cases.
The UML has filed writ petitions at the Supreme Court challenging Sapkota’s refusal to act on its recommendation to sack the defecting lawmakers and the decision of the Election Commission to authenticate their signatures. The petitions are sub judice.
Gurung, the former general secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, says the House cannot run smoothly if marshals have to be deployed at every session.
“I don’t see any other alternative to dialogue. But it is not happening,” said Gurung. “Along with conducting the House meetings effectively, the Speaker should also be good at finding solutions to problems, a skillset that Sapkota seems to lack.”