A divided house, ruling party has yet to decide on Speaker candidateWhile the Speaker’s post is a bone of contention, the party is split deeper over the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal compact.
A deepening conflict over the candidate for House Speaker and the Millenium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal Compact has broken the facade of unity in the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who had appeared flexible on letting Subas Nembang become the House Speaker just a few days ago, has hardened his stance lately, largely because of pressure from the Maoist faction of the party, according to insiders.
Nembang is Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s pick for Speaker but the former Maoists want to hold on to the Speaker’s post, which has been vacant since early October after Krishna Bahadur Mahara stepped down following attempted rape allegations. Mahara was a former Maoist party member.
Oli, who also co-chairs the party, is under further duress as he is battling his own former UML members over the $500 million MCC compact. A section of the ruling party, which includes both UML and Maoist members, has been objecting to the compact’s requirement of parliamentary ratification.
More than a year-and-a-half since the merger of the UML and the Maoists, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is still divided along former party lines. A Standing Committee meeting in December, the first in a year, had raised expectations that the former UML and Maoist leaders were trying to shed their factional colours.
But fissures remain, all the way from the top leadership down to the rank-and-file, according to insiders.
“I don’t think the Maoists will let Oli pick the Speaker’s candidate on his own,” said Bishnu Rijal, a Central Committee member who has close relations with Madhav Kumar Nepal, a leader with significant clout in the party. “The Maoists are likely to get that post but it could go to someone other than Agni Sapkota.”
Dahal on Monday dashed off to Sindhupalchok to “spend some time in peace”, a routine he has followed for years, according to party leaders, whenever he is stressed out.
After returning, Dahal on Wednesday held a meeting with Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bhim Rawal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha at Bamdev Gautam’s residence in Bhainsepati.
Rawal of late has become a vocal critic of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s compact while Gautam is miffed for not being elevated to party vice-chair, something that Oli had promised him. The party also did not nominate him for the National Assembly after Oli refused to oblige to his demand for amending the constitution to pave the way for a National Assembly member to become prime minister.
Nepal and Khanal have long been Oli’s adversaries while Shrestha, as a former Maoist, is closely aligned with Dahal.
The new dynamics leave Oli with Bishnu Poudel and Ishwar Pokhrel on his side in the nine-member secretariat.
“If the co-chairs fail to agree on the Speaker candidate, we will pick one through the secretariat,” Khanal told the Post. “The secretariat will meet before Sunday’s House meeting.”
If the secretariat picks the Speaker’s candidate through a majority decision, Dahal will have an edge and Oli is likely to exhibit some flexibility, albeit unwillingly, say party leaders.
“The Speaker’s post is the Maoists’ rightful claim and letting them have their candidate will be the most convincing move,” said Agriculture Minister Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member who represents the former UML.
The ruling party is under pressure to pick the Speaker’s candidate without further delay, as the next House meeting has been scheduled for Sunday. Meetings of the winter session of the House of Representatives, which commenced on December 20, have been postponed twice due to the indecision on the Speaker candidate.
The primary opposition Nepali Congress too has been criticising the ruling party for holding the House hostage to its indecision on the Speaker candidate.
Addressing the National Assembly, Congress lawmaker Jitendra Dev on Thursday demanded that the House should be allowed to elect the new Speaker through the upcoming meeting of Parliament as per constitutional provisions.