Afraid of being sidelined, former Maoists refuse to give up Speaker’s postIf the Maoist faction of the ruling party lets go of House Speaker, all of the highest-ranking state officials will be from the former UML.
A day before the scheduled meeting of the House of Representatives, the Parliament Secretariat, on Tuesday, issued a notice postponing the meeting for January 12 “due to a special reason”.
The secretariat might have chosen vague wording but the ‘special reason’ was obvious—the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had failed to decide on a new House Speaker. The process to elect the new Speaker should have begun on Wednesday but has now been postponed by nearly two weeks.
Earlier on Tuesday, ruling party Co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal had held a meeting to discuss the probable candidate for Speaker. They, however, were unable to agree on a name. Oli is in favour of Subas Nembang while Dahal wants Agni Sapkota as the Speaker.
According to party insiders, Dahal had appeared flexible on the choice for Speaker until a few days ago, but he is now making a push for Sapkota.
Leaders from the former Maoist party, say insiders, have placed pressure on Dahal to not give up any ground, arguing that they are already losing their say in the Nepal Communist Party to former UML members.
The Nepal Communist Party was formed after the merger of Dahal’s Maoist Centre and Oli’s CPN-UML.
If the post of Speaker remains with the Maoists, according to leaders, it will ensure their representation in the Constitutional Council, a key agency that recommends ambassadors and officials to constitutional bodies. The six-member council is headed by the prime minister and has the chief justice, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, National Assembly chairperson, and leader of the opposition as members.
“If we don’t get the Speaker’s post, we will have no representation in the council,” said a standing committee member who has close relations with Dahal.
Such an argument from former Maoist leaders at a time when the leadership is urging the rank-and-file to shed the UML and Maoist hangover shows that the party has yet to fully unite.
Political commentators and leaders say that the difficulty in deciding the Speaker comes from leaders attempting to strike a power balance.
“Once the Speaker’s post goes to the former UML, Dahal will lose his bargaining power, with no representation in the constitutional council,” said Biswo Bhakta Dulal, a political commentator and former Maoist leader.
According to party insiders, Dahal, in a meeting last month, had told former Maoist leaders not to talk about factions as the party has almost completed unification. But Maoist leaders have united to create pressure on Dahal to not let the former UML lead Parliament, according to a Standing Committee member who did not wish to be identified.
According to the leader, two weeks ago, when the Standing Committee meeting was ongoing, members representing the former Maoist party had met with Dahal to ask him not to give up on the Speaker, as that would mean Baluwatar, Sheetal Niwas and Baneshwor all going to the former UML. While Oli in Baluwatar led the UML before unification, President Bidya Devi Bhandari in Sheetal Niwas is also a former UML leader.
“The former UML leaders are playing a two-pronged approach—if Dahal does not agree on Nembang, the deputy Speaker will be promoted to Speaker,” said the Standing Committee member.
Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe has refused to resign, laying her own claim to the post of Speaker. Tumbahangphe is also a former UML leader.
Dahal is also under pressure to hold his ground after accusations that he had traded away everything for the post of “executive chairman”, which he received last month through a party secretariat meeting.
Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central committee member representing the former Maoist party, said there are exercises aimed at weakening the Maoists.
“If Dahal does not cling to the Speaker’s post, the party will see further division,” said Chaulagain. “This can have long-term implications.”
Oli, who had earlier blamed former speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara for not moving the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact forward in Parliament, wants to install one of his confidantes to ensure that the US programme is ratified. Mahara, a former Maoist, resigned as speaker over allegations of attempted rape.
Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator, said that Oli and Dahal may have their claims, but the House should not be held hostage to their indecision.
“There is still deep division in the party, and the indecision and tug-of-war over the Speaker’s post prove just that,” said Subedi.
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