As House proceedings halt, fingers point in the direction of SpeakerEven as the ruling and opposition parties demonstrate actions unbecoming of Parliament, Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been unable to act.
The proceedings of the House of Representatives have been obstructed since early July as ruling and opposition parties remain adamant over their positions for and against forming a parliamentary probe panel to investigate two deaths in Sarlahi district last month. The exception was last week when the opposition allowed the House to function—only to discuss relief work for victims of monsoon disasters across the country.
After no meetings for three weeks, which have either been adjourned through a notice or after demonstrations by the Nepali Congress and Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, House proceedings were once again obstructed on Wednesday as the two opposition parties were not ready to cooperate unless their demands were addressed.
But the dysfunction in Parliament is primarily the result of one man, some legislators say, pointing fingers at House Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who, as the head of the legislature, is tasked with bringing the dissenting parties together.
According to the Parliament’s Working Procedure, any disputes over the House proceedings are discussed in the Business Advisory Committee, which has representation of chief whips, whips and other leaders of all the parties in the House. If the issue is not resolved there, the Speaker is required to call a meeting of the top leadership of the dissenting parties to find a solution.
However, in the last three weeks, Mahara has called the committee’s meeting just twice, none of them in recent weeks, even though it was amply clear that the opposition parties would be resorting to obstruction. The Nepali Congress and Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal have been demanding that a parliamentary committee be formed to investigate the deaths of Kumar Paudel, the Sarlahi district chief of the banned Communist Party of Nepal led by Netra Bikram Chand, and Saroj Narayan Mahato, another Sarlahi resident, in police action.
Members of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, however, say that forming a parliamentary committee would set a precedent which would lead to setting up of House committees in such cases in the future.
“Mahara had said he was positive on our demands but took no step to make it happen,” said Bal Krishna Khand, Nepali Congress chief whip, accusing Mahara of failing to stand by his assurance. “He also has not taken serious attempts to convince the parties in finding a solution.”
Khand added neither the Speaker nor the ruling parties seem concerned about the deadlock in the Lower House.
According to Khand, the ruling party ought to be responsible to ensure a conducive environment for the House to function, and Mahara, as the head of the body, should work with Nepal Communist Party leaders to bring the opposition to the table.
Other leaders of the main opposition say that because the issue has entered Parliament, the House should resolve it. They also said that they were open for negotiations if presented with acceptable alternatives.
Laxman Lal Karna, Rastriya Janata Party Nepal chief whip, said Mahara only made informal attempts talking to leaders from other parties. “The Speaker has an authority to present himself boldly, but he has failed most probably because he is under pressure from the ruling party,” he told the Post.
In an interview with the Post, Daman Nath Dhungana, a former speaker of the Lower House, said it is primarily the responsibility of the speaker to bring the parties together. But he was quick to add that the ruling and opposition parties also need to cooperate.
“There’s been a rise in activities that are unbecoming of the House these days, both by the ruling and opposition parties, while Mahara has been ineffective in controlling them,” Dhungana said.
An aide to Mahara, however, defended the Speaker, saying he did take the initiatives to forge consensus among the parties.
“Even on Wednesday, he telephoned leaders on both sides of the aisle, asking them to give up their adamance and break the deadlock,” said Dilli Malla, Mahara’s press advisor.
Following a string of criticisms, Mahara has called an all-party meeting on Thursday, during which his aides say he will ask second-rung leaders from both ruling and opposition parties to come up with a solution.