Speaker finally starts talks with UML to end House obstructionUML says Speaker must first admit his decision not to sack the 14 lawmakers was biased.
After conducting the meeting of the House of Representatives for two days by deploying marshals amid protests by the main opposition CPN-UML, Speaker Agni Sapkota has started talks with the party in an attempt to end the protest.
The main opposition has been staging protests in the lower house against the Speaker since the very first meeting of the ongoing session that commenced Thursday demanding that 14 lawmakers elected on UML tickets who have defected to the CPN (Unified Socialist) be sacked. The party has accused the Speaker of political bias for not sacking the lawmakers before the government introduced an ordinance to ease splits in political parties.
Sapkota allowed the government to present the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act, 2017, on Thursday amid rancorous sloganeering by UML lawmakers. He deployed marshals to stop opposition lawmakers from obstructing the House proceedings.
On Friday also, the Speaker used marshals to allow the government to present a bill to replace the national budget amid protest by the CPN-UML.
However, at the very start of Sunday’s meeting, Sapkota urged the opposition party to resolve the dispute through talks. “There is no alternative to coordination and cooperation. The ruling and opposition parties should take initiatives for talks,” said Sapkota.
Despite his request, UML lawmakers continued chanting slogans. Unlike during the last meeting when they had scuffled with the marshals, the protesting lawmakers appeared less aggressive on Sunday. Prior to the House meeting, UML chair KP Sharma Oli had asked his lawmakers to maintain the decorum of the House even while obstructing its business.
Sapkota adjourned the House meeting briefly and held talks with UML leaders though they ended inconclusively. “In a brief meeting with the Speaker we demanded that he admit that his decision not to sack the 14 lawmakers was biased. We also asked for his commitment to treat the ruling and opposition parties equally,” Bishal Bhattarai, the party’s chief whip, told the Post. “He [Speaker] said he will hold talks with the top leadership [of the UML].”
Minister for Law and Justice Gyanendra Bahadur Karki was also present at the meeting and stressed the need for dialogue to resolve the problem.
The UML on August 17 had recommended that the Speaker sack the 14 lawmakers “for conspiring to split the party.” However, Sapkota took no action on the recommendation until the government brought an ordinance to ease splits in parties and the UML dissidents launched the CPN (Unified Socialist) on August 18, which was registered at the Election Commission on August 25. And on August 29, the Speaker announced it was not necessary to take action on the UML’s recommendation as the dissidents had already formed a new party.
The UML has charged the Speaker with playing foul and joining the ruling party alliance in its conspiracy to split the party. The party has been saying they won’t let the House to function until the 14 including Madhav Nepal, the chairperson of the CPN (Unified Socialist), aren’t stripped of their lawmaker positions. At Sunday’s meeting, the UML leaders said they would end their protest if the Speaker admitted that his decision was flawed.
In an attempt to end the tussle, Sapkota has called an all-party meeting for Monday afternoon. Shreedhar Neupane, a press advisor to Sapkota, said the meeting will discuss issues including ways to end the UML protest. The next House meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say dialogue is the only way to resolve the problem. “The House should not be obstructed for long. The Speaker, the opposition and the ruling parties should sit together to resolve the issue,” Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “I believe the UML knows that no one will benefit from such obstructions. In the mid-1990s, the UML had obstructed parliament for 58 days and later come for dialogue.”
In 1997, the UML had obstructed the House of Representatives accusing then Girija Prasad Koirala-led government of embezzling millions of rupees while leasing a Boeing 767 from the Austrian Lauda Air for the then Royal Nepal Airlines for 18 months.
Surya Kiran Gurung, a former general secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, said there are two options for resolving the current dispute: either holding a dialogue or waiting for the court to decide the matter. “It is not sure when will the court issue its ruling. So talks are the best option to find a solution,” he told the Post.
The UML has filed writ petitions challenging the Speaker’s decision.