As Oli plans Cabinet reshuffle, the post of House Speaker could be a bargaining chipThe rejig and a number of top appointments are aimed at balancing the ruling party’s internal power dynamics and its relationship with its partners in government.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s plans to reshuffle his Cabinet will be crucial in establishing a fine balance both within the ruling Nepal Communist Party and with the party’s partners in government, according to NCP leaders.
The upcoming reshuffle of the Cabinet, planned for the end of this week, will not only remove and reassign ministers but is part of a larger reworking of various leadership positions in government, including ambassadorial postings, leaderships of constitutional bodies, and the crucial post of House Speaker and deputy Speaker.
The Speaker’s post has remained vacant since early October when Krishna Bahadur Mahara stepped down in the wake of rape allegations.
Though Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe has staked her claim to the post of Speaker, party insiders say that she is likely to be asked to step aside in return for a ministerial portfolio.
“I would prefer to comment only after leaders begin discussions on Speaker appointment,” Tumbahangphe told the Post. “Leaders have not consulted with me about this matter yet.”
A member in Tumbahangphe’s secretariat, however, told the Post that her priority was the Speaker and she may not accept just any ministerial portfolio.
Since the constitution requires the Speaker and Deputy Speaker to be from two different parties—one of them woman, the only option for Oli is to ask Tumbahangphe to resign and appoint a leader of his choice as Speaker. Tumbahangphe is from the ruling Nepal Communist Party, but she is not a directly elected Member of Parliament. As the House Speaker has traditionally been a directly elected leader, some within the ruling party might be unwilling to accept Tumbahangphe for the role, say NCP leaders.
Prior to the parties’ merger into the Nepal Communist Party, Tumbahangphe was with the UML while Mahara was from the Maoists, which gives the Maoist faction of the ruling party a ‘rightful claim’ to the post of Speaker, say former Maoist leaders.
Former Maoist leaders have proposed Dev Gurung, Agni Sapkota, Lekhraj Bhatta and Pampha Bhusal, among others, for the post of Speaker, which is one of the highest positions in the country, after the President, Vice President, prime minister and the chief justice.
Gurung, a former law minister, is the senior most among the proposed names. But Gurung, who is the party’s chief whip, has been one of the loudest critics of the agreement with the US’ Millennium Challenge Corporation, which has earned him the ire of former UML leaders, including Oli.
In an interview with the Post’s sister publication Kantipur in the third week of October, Oli had expressed dissatisfaction with Mahara’s role regarding the Millenium Challenge Corporation agreement.
“He did not do his duty and did not follow the discipline of a Speaker by not presenting the proposal for endorsement, even after the government took it to Parliament,” Oli had told Kantipur. Oli’s dissatisfaction with Mahara over the Millenium Challenge Corporation could also harm Gurung’s chances.
Many former Maoist leaders also believe that Dahal could lobby for Agni Sapkota, who is a close confidante and a former minister.
“Agni Sapkota’s name tops the list for Speaker, even though there are many aspirants in the party,” said Bishnu Sapkota, Dahal’s press advisor.
However, standing committee member Sapkota is currently facing the charges of murder, with his case pending at the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court. This could raise serious ethical questions over Sapkota’s elevation to the coveted post.
However, leaders in the Maoist faction said they could give up their claim to the post of Speaker if Oli lets Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal lead either the party or the government.
If the two top leaders agree to this condition, and the UML faction gains the post of Speaker, Oli will possibly pick Subas Nembang, who chaired the two Constituent Assemblies, according to former UML leaders.
As all of the proposed names, except for Bhusal, are male, it is likely that the next Speaker will be a man. The deputy, therefore, will be a woman, most likely Durga Poudel of the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The ruling party will most likely lay claim to the Speaker while the deputy will be awarded to another party, either the Samajbadi Party, Rastriya Janata Party or the Janamorcha. Regardless, the position will not go to the primary opposition, Nepali Congress, say ruling party leaders.