Ruling coalition seeks to keep the Speaker on a tight leashThey want him to follow Business Advisory Committee’s lead. Experts say that’s unfair.
Two years ago, the then Prime Minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli had accused Speakers, first Krishna Bahadur Mahara and then Agni Prasad Sapkota, of not cooperating with his government to present the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact in the Parliament. Both the Speakers were CPN (Maoist Centre) nominees.
Now as CPN-UML’s Devraj Ghimire takes over the helm of the House of Representatives, the ruling alliance doesn’t seem to trust him. The level of distrust is so high that the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre and other ruling party lawmakers have recently registered about a dozen amendments to the House regulations draft, which was finalised after a long discussion about two weeks ago.
The lawmakers want to fetter the prerogative of the Speaker over House proceedings. One of the amendment proposals says, “All the works the Speaker performs must be decided by the Business Advisory Committee [BAC].”
The BAC comprises chief whips, whips and select lawmakers of the parties and gives suggestions to the Speaker on House proceedings. If there are differences of opinion on House proceedings, it is the platform to resolve them.
The ruling party lawmakers say they sought a revision in the draft regulation after getting hints that the Speaker could function arbitrarily. As per their claim, in his consultations with the cross-party lawmakers, the Speaker agreed to call a House meeting for March 20. However, he then summoned it for March 19.
Likewise, Ghimire agreed to call another meeting on March 23 to discuss the regulations. However, that didn’t happen and the next meeting was called for March 26. “All lawmakers can register amendments. They felt a revision is necessary,” Hit Raj Pandey, the Maoist Centre chief whip, told the Post. “I don’t think there is anything wrong in asking for a revision.”
The revision, however, clearly is an attempt to oblige Ghimire to simply follow the decisions of the BAC, which the ruling parties dominate.
Constitutional experts say the Speaker should remain impartial. He should not be seen to be working in the interest of some particular party and Ghimire’s actions show he has not been able to coordinate with the parties, which is his prime responsibility, they say.
“The Speaker must show high moral character. He needs to demonstrate the ability to coordinate among all the parties in the House,” senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi, who is also the chair of the Constitutional Lawyers Forum, told the Post. “Ghimire’s actions make him a suspect. However, the Business Advisory Committee also cannot dictate terms to the Speaker. It is not mandatory for the Speaker to abide by the committee’s decisions.”
Experts also say as a presiding officer, the Speaker must have the liberty to run the House. Taking to Twitter, Bipin Adhikari, a professor at the Kathmandu University School of Law, said the essence of the parliamentary system will collapse if the BAC dictates the Speaker.
The UML and the Maoist Centre were in the same alliance that elected Ghimire as Speaker on January 19. However, the alliance has broken down, giving birth to a new one, following the March 9 presidential election. Now the Maoist Centre has joined hands with the Congress.
Ghimire, meanwhile, has expedited consultations in the face of the ruling parties’ attempts to curtail his authority. He held a meeting with chief whips and whips of various parties. He also met Prime Minister and Maoist Centre chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal to discuss the ruling parties’ attempts to revise House regulations.
On Tuesday, he consulted cross-party chief whips and asked them to withdraw their amendment proposals.
“The Speaker wants unanimity in the regulations,” Shekhar Adhikari, press advisor to the Speaker, told the Post. “He is in regular consultations. Hopefully, some meeting points will be found soon.”
The Regulation Drafting Committee finalised the bill after long deliberations.
UML lawmakers have accused the ruling party lawmakers of trying to backtrack on something already agreed upon. “We need to respect the Speaker’s position as an institution. I believe we can reach a consensual agreement,” Padam Giri, UML chief whip, told the Post.