Ruling party’s indecision over Speaker puts a halt to the House businessWhile some have pointed to the deputy Speaker’s refusal to resign as an obstacle, it is the ruling party’s factional infighting that is holding the House hostage, insiders say.
Dozens of meetings between Prime Minister and party Co-chair KP Sharma Oli and Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the last three months have yielded no results. Oli has continued to lobby for his UML member Subas Nembang and Dahal for his Maoist comrade Agni Sapkota. Party insiders said that Dahal could even back Pampha Bhusal for Speaker if gender is to be an issue.
Tumbahangphe, for her part, has refused to resign, despite a directive on Saturday from both Oli and Dahal asking her to step down.
“I have not committed any crime so why should I resign,” Tumbahangphe told the Post. “I am not going to leave the House headless. So I am not going to put in my papers, which I have made clear to Oli and Dahal.”
As she is deputy Speaker of the federal parliament, Tumbahangphe is above the party line and thus is not beholden to the party whip, she said.
“I have placed my claim for the post of Speaker and have told both leaders that they can either remove me by sending a notice to the Election Commission stating that the party has expelled me or they can impeach me,” said Tumbahangphe. “But I am not going to resign at any cost.”
Tumbahangphe has President Bidya Devi Bhandari and a host of women leaders from the ruling party in her corner, said party insiders. One politician told the Post that Bhandari and Tumbahangphe are old friends and meet frequently.
As the ruling party scrambles to decide whether to allow Tumbahangphe to contest for the role of Speaker or to find a candidate suitable to all, all House business has been put on hold.
After a heated debate between Oli, Dahal and Tumbahangphe on Sunday ended without conclusion, the January 12 meeting of the House was put off until January 20.
A party Secretariat member told the Post that Oli and Dahal will first address the issues raised by Tumbahangphe, so both chairs will require some time to assess the situation. An adamant Tumbahangphe has even presented the co-chairs with a 12-point list of her accomplishments, asking them to tell her why she does not qualify for the post.
“It will take some more time but both leaders will discuss what Tumbahangphe said and will then attempt to seek consensus on the new Speaker,” said NCP spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
Dahal had earlier appeared softer on the post of Speaker but has hardened his stance since former Maoist leaders asked him not to give up their faction’s only high-level political representation. Oli, on the other hand, is miffed at Dahal after he held a separate meeting with a number of senior party leaders in Lalitpur, according to the ruling party leader.
The post of Speaker is especially crucial for Oli as the prime minister was unhappy with Mahara for holding up a number of bills, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal compact.
If Oli is forced to compromise over Sapkota or Bhusal, he will definitely have some hard conditions of his own, said the party leader.
“Oli will also require a precondition that his government will not face any sort of non-cooperation from the new Speaker,” he said.
According to Minister for Agriculture Ghanashyam Bhusal, the debate might be taking a long time but it is not something that will invite serious confrontation.
“Both sides want to dominate each other until a consensus is reached but we have faced more serious issues than this in the past and such issues are likely to come up in the future too,” said Bhusal.
The Nepali Congress, the primary opposition party, on the other hand, has expressed concern over repeated failures of the ruling party to pick the Speaker and to hold the meeting of the House of Representatives.