No deputy Speaker for over two years, and now they want to elect one. Why?Not aimed at protecting the constitution, experts say, as ruling parties seem to be eying something else that they think may benefit them somehow.
The House of Representatives is set to elect the deputy Speaker on Friday, nearly two and a half years after the position became vacant following the resignation of Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe.
Speaker Agni Sapkota announced the schedule for the election at Wednesday’s meeting of the House after an agreement among the ruling parties to fill the position. As per the schedule, the nominations for the position will be filed on Thursday while the vote will be held at 3pm on Friday.
Nepali Congress whip Pushpa Bhusal is set to be the candidate for deputy Speaker from the ruling alliance.
“There has been an understanding among the ruling parties to field Bhusal as a consensus candidate,” Min Bahadur Bishwakarma, a Congress leader, told the Post. “But we are yet to make a formal decision.”
Why the parties suddenly decided to fill the post of deputy Speaker after a gap of more than two years and at a time when the House term is going to end, however, has intrigued many.
The Election Commission has already proposed November 18 as the date for general and provincial elections and it is just a matter of days before the government will formally make an announcement.
Ruling coalition leaders say the House won’t function for long once the election date is announced.
Many say the ruling parties want to elect deputy Speaker so as to make it easier for holding the meetings of the Constitutional Council which recommends chief justice of the Supreme Court and chairpersons and members in the various constitutional commissions.
There are hardly any constitutional commissions where appointments have to be made after the KP Oli government made recommendations in December 2020 by amending the Constitutional Council Act through an ordinance. But the move of issuing the ordinance, and subsequent recommendations and appointments were challenged in the court. At least five petitions are currently in the court.
In a move that has been widely criticised, the current Sher Bahadur Deuba government on Friday registered a bill at the National Assembly to amend the Constitutional Council Act by retaining the provisions that were in the ordinance brought by the Oli government.
The bill says the meeting of the council can convene if the chairperson and 50 percent of its members are present. The chairperson and a majority among at least 50 percent of the members can take a decision if the consensus bid fails, as per the amendment bill.
The constitution has envisioned six members in the council, with the prime minister as its chair. The chief justice, House Speaker, National Assembly chair, leader of the main opposition and deputy Speaker are members. The bill landed in controversy with pressure growing in the government to withdraw it. With the amendment to the Act, Deuba was trying to ease the way for him to make nominations for positions in constitutional commissions and for Supreme Court chief justice even if the leader of the opposition Oli remains absent.
Now by electing deputy Speaker from the Congress, it seems the ruling coalition is trying to create a situation where the Constitutional Council can take a decision as per Deuba’s wish, many say.
In that case, the government doesn’t need to move the bill to amend the Constitutional Council Act. As per the Act, the chairperson and four other members in the council can convene its meeting. National Assembly chair Ganesh Timilsina was appointed to the position from the UML.
The Congress leaders say they believe it won’t be morally easy for Timilsina to skip the council’s meeting called by following due process. There, however, are instances when Speaker Sapkota, a long-time Maoist member, skipped the meeting called by Oli in the capacity of council chair. Even Deuba as the leader of the opposition had skipped the meetings called by Oli in the past.
Bhusal, the Congress candidate for the deputy Speaker post, was defeated by Tumbahangphe in the election for the post in March 2018.
Tumbahangphe, however, had to resign in January 2020 to pave the way for the election of Sapkota as Speaker following the resignation of Krishna Bahadur Mahara after rape allegations.
At that time, Sapkota, a Maoist leader, represented the Nepal Communist Party, which was formed in May 2018 after a merger between the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN-UML.
Article 91 of the constitution that says the Speaker and the deputy Speaker can’t come from the same party would have barred Sapkota’s election had Tumbahangphe not resigned. After she resigned as deputy Speaker, the Oli government rewarded Tumbahangphe by appointing her as law minister.
Given the composition in the House, the ruling alliance candidate for deputy Speaker is certain to win. It’s just the question whether there will be a vote or not. If the UML, which has 98 lawmakers, decides not to field any candidate, the coalition candidate will be elected unopposed.
Constitutional experts say while it is a welcome move that the House is getting a deputy Speaker after a long gap, the way the election is being held just a few months before the tenure of the House ends raises some questions.
“If parties were really concerned about protecting the constitution they would have filled the vacant post long ago,” senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi, chairperson of the Constitutional Lawyers Forum, told the Post. “I think this is just aimed at ensuring that the Constitutional Council has one more member from the alliance which makes it easier to appoint individuals in constitutional commissions.”
Parties have already faced a plethora of questions over their commitment to the constitution for failing to abide by the basic principles of the constitution.
The House term has been envisioned for five years with Speaker and deputy Speaker as mandatory presiding officers.
But in more than half its term, the House functioned without the deputy Speaker.
Tulasi Simkhada, an advocate who has filed a petition demanding a Supreme Court order to appoint deputy Speaker, said all major parties are responsible for violating the spirit of the constitution by leaving the position vacant for such a long time.
“Yet, I am happy that the House is finally getting the deputy Speaker now no matter how long the tenure is,” he told the Post. “I take it as a positive development.”