Nembang all but certain to become next Speaker, party insiders sayNCP leaders say Pushpa Kamal Dahal could give up his claim that the position stay with the Maoist faction.
With the winter session of Parliament just a couple of weeks away, the ruling Nepal Communist Party has two names for the post of House Speaker—Subash Nembang and Agni Sapkota. However, given internal deliberations, party leaders say that Nembang is the clear frontrunner.
Both UML and Maoist factions of the ruling communist party have been vying for the post of Speaker, the fifth-highest position in the state. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has been lobbying in favour of former Speaker and chairman of both Constituent Assemblies Nembang. The Maoist faction in the party has also been demanding that the position stay with them, but Pushpa Kamal Dahal is willing to give up his claim, party leaders told the Post.
A senior party leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it is not clear what deal Dahal and Oli had reached in order to elevate Dahal to ‘executive’ chairman of the unified party. But it could have involved Dahal giving up the post of Speaker.
“Dahal has lately been calling on the party to not bring up factional issues, saying party unification is almost complete,” said Devendra Poudel, a standing committee member. “But I don’t think leaders [of the Maoist faction] are going to give up on the Speaker’s post so easily.”
Despite the misgivings of lower-rung Maoist leaders, Dahal appears willing to compromise, say party insiders, particularly since the Maoist choice—Sapkota—does not seem to have much support.
Sapkota’s name for the Speaker’s post could draw unnecessary attention from various quarters, including the human rights community. Sapkota faces a murder charge, for which a case is pending at the Supreme Court. With former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara having stepped down after allegations of attempted rape, it will not look good to have another murder-accused as Speaker, according to party insiders.
Nepal’s peace process has been dragging on for more than a decade now and the international community has long been pressing the government to conclude the transitional justice process, the most crucial component of the deal. Sapkota’s pending case is from the insurgency years and is thus part of the transitional justice process.
Party leaders, particularly from the UML faction, are also uncertain whether Sapkota will be an appropriate candidate for the position, as it requires ‘diplomatic skills’.
“I don’t think a leader who turns aggressive even during interviews with the media can handle the position properly,” said a central committee member from the UML faction. “A person like Nembang can skillfully handle the House.”
According to Poudel, Oli has been saying that the Speaker should be selected on the basis of capability. This argument clearly favours Nembang, who led the Constituent Assembly for almost eight years, from 2006 to the promulgation of the constitution in 2015.
The post of Speaker has remained vacant since early October after Mahara stepped down. Since Mahara represented the Maoist faction, Dahal was initially lobbying for a former Maoist leader as Speaker.
Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, who is from the UML faction, has been staking claim to the post. But with the two parties’ merger, the ruling Nepal Communist Party cannot appoint its leader from either faction as Speaker unless Tumbahangphe steps down.
Article 91(2) of the constitution stipulates that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker should be from different parties and a different gender.
Discussions on Speaker’s appointment were put on the back burner after Oli’s health suddenly deteriorated. After an appendectomy on November 26, Oli currently is convalescing at the hospital.
Surya Thapa, the press advisor to Oli, said the party will sit and finalise the name after proper discussion. “The prime minister will remain in the hospital for a week. The party’s secretariat meeting to be held after his discharge will decide the name,” Thapa told the Post.
The first Cabinet meeting to be held after the by-elections is likely to recommend that President Bhandari call the winter session for mid-December. By then, according to standing committee member Poudel, the party’s secretariat meeting will take a formal decision regarding the role of Speaker.