Opposition obstructs the House, forcing Oli to stand mutely at the podiumThe Speaker’s decision to allow the prime minister to speak first led Nepali Congress to obstruct proceedings for nearly 10 minutes
Prime KP Sharma Oli, usually so voluble and full of wit and confidence, appeared forlorn and dejected at the House of Representatives rostrum on Tuesday.
Oli had stepped forward to address the House, after being allowed to speak first by Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara. But the moment Oli took to the podium, the opposition Nepali Congress gheraoed the well, preventing the prime minister from speaking.
Standing mute at the podium for about 10 minutes, unable to exercise his characteristic gift of gab, Oli appeared visibly frustrated, at one moment even putting his head on the podium.
The trouble began before Oli even stepped onto the rostrum, with both Oli, co-chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, and Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of the opposition Nepali Congress, vying to speak first. Unable to reach an agreement during a prior consultation, Mahara allowed Oli to address the House first, leading the opposition to take umbrage. Mahara eventually adjourned the House proceedings for the day.
The Congress insisted that Deuba should have been allowed to speak first, as Oli could then respond to the opposition’s concerns, saying it is international practice to allow the opposition to speak first.
The ruling party, however, decried the Congress’ obstruction, saying it was “unparliamentary behaviour” to stop the prime minister from addressing the House.
Talking to the media after the House was adjourned, Nepal Communist Party leader Yogesh Bhattarai said that Congress had shown intolerance by preventing Oli from speaking after the Speaker had already allowed him time. “This is a condemnable act,” said Bhattarai.
Oli had sought time to inform the House about his recent Europe visit and a bill to amend the existing Guthi Act, which has drawn widespread condemnation. Oli eventually held a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office, where he said the Guthi Bill had been withdrawn.
The Congress justified its obstruction on the grounds that it is the responsibility of the prime minister to respond to the concerns of lawmakers. Nepali Congress Chief Whip Bal Krishna Khand said that he had personally spoken with Mahara to allow Deuba to address the House first.
“The Speaker couldn’t stick to his commitment because he couldn’t face pressure from the prime minister,” he told the Post. “It is the duty of the Speaker to manage both sides.”
Khand said that Oli had turned the opportunity to address the House first into a matter of pride. The ruling party, which bears the responsibility for ensuring that the House proceedings continue uninterrupted, must also shoulder responsibility for the obstruction, he said.
Officials from Mahara’s secretariat said that he had decided to allow Oli to speak first as there was no prior consensus on who would address the House first.
“The opposition was free to ask counter questions after the prime minister’s address,” Dilli Malla, Mahara’s press adviser, told the Post. The Speaker didn’t think that the Congress would “resort to House obstruction”, he said.
As there was no Business Advisory Committee meeting, which decides the agenda for the House, Malla said that the Speaker used his judgement to decide who would go first.
Analysts, however, seem to agree with the opposition, saying it would’ve been better had Deuba been allowed to speak first.
“This situation would’ve been averted had the Speaker acted smartly,” said Surya Kiran Gurung, former general secretary of the Parliament Secretariat. “Speaker Mahara must understand that he isn’t a minister in the Oli Cabinet but a non-partisan Speaker with his own authority.”
In this instance, as multiple times in the past, Mahara seems to have acted on Oli’s orders, said Gurung. Mahara had previously administered the oath of office to Resham Chaudhary, the primary accused in the Tikapur incident, at Oli’s behest, said Gurung. According to Gurung, Mahara has consistently failed to perform the role of an independent, non-partisan Speaker of the House.