Ruling party is undecided and Speaker is reluctant, leaving the House without Deputy SpeakerNepal Communist Party wants to elect the deputy as part of a larger deal but the Janata Party wants the position to be dealt with separately from its other demands.
It has been more than a month and a half since Agni Sapkota was elected the Speaker, but there are no signs of when the House of Representatives will get its Deputy Speaker.
The constitution requires the Speaker and Deputy Speaker to be from different parties and genders. The Deputy Speaker chairs the House when the Speaker is absent for any reason.
According to sources, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), from which Sapkota was elected Speaker, has yet to take a decision on the Deputy Speaker on the grounds that there won’t be any problem since the Speaker is there to chair the House.
But experts say leaving the Deputy Speaker’s post vacant just because the Speaker has been elected is against constitutional provisions and the spirit of the rule of law.
While the parties in Parliament, especially the ruling party, need to constantly pursue the issue, the Speaker too needs to take immediate cognizance of the matter and discuss it with lawmakers across the party line, they say.
“The Speaker is equally responsible for ensuring that he gets a deputy soon after his election,” Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “Sapkota should immediately call a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee and ask the parties to decide on the candidate.”
The Business Advisory Committee comprises chief whips of all the parties represented in the House. The Parliament’s business is set by its secretariat, as per suggestions from the committee, which also plays a crucial role in resolving disputes that arise in parliamentary proceedings.
Aides to Sapkota told the Post that he wants his deputy to be finalised at the earliest, but the issue remains stuck at the party.
“The Speaker had even held a round of talks with senior leaders from the ruling party,” said one of Sapkota’s aides who did not wish to be identified. “But the ruling party leaders asked him to wait for some time. Therefore, he has not raised the issue for now.”
The House is facing difficulty in getting the Deputy Speaker due to various factors, including the ruling party’s indecision, constitutional provisions and the composition of the House.
Constitutionally, the ruling party cannot lay claim to the Deputy Speaker post. But it does not want this post to go to the primary opposition Nepali Congress. Its relations with the Samajbadi Party Nepal have also soured of late after the latter pulled out of government on December 24 on the grounds that the KP Sharma Oli government was not sincere about addressing its demands for constitutional amendments.
The Rastriya Janamorcha has already refused to take the position saying it has only one lawmaker in the House and making her the Deputy Speaker will mean the party will lose its voice. The Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party don’t have any female lawmakers in the House.
Given the scenario, the only party that can get the Deputy Speaker post is the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal. And there’s where the catch lies. The Janata Party wants the Deputy Speaker issue to be dealt with separately.
Though relations between the two parties have not been good ever since the Janata Party withdrew its support to the government in March last year, they had gotten closer in December last year after a deal on forging an alliance for the National Assembly election.
Negotiations were ongoing between the two parties when ruling party chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was hospitalised.
“We have learnt that there had been some talks between the two parties before Prime Minister Oli was hospitalised for a kidney transplant,” a central committee member from the ruling party told the Post on condition of anonymity as she was not authorised to speak on the party’s internal matters.
Oli wants the Janata Party to join the government if the Deputy Speaker post is given to it, as it will help ensure a two-thirds majority for the ruling party.
But the ongoing delay in finalising the name for the Deputy Speaker is not sending a positive message, said the ruling party leader.
One Janata Party leader said that it is ready to send one of its lawmakers to become the Deputy Speaker but the issue should be dealt with separately.
“We will happily accept the position if the ruling party offers it. However, it cannot be a part of any other larger deal,” Keshav Jha, general secretary of the Janata Party, told the Post.
Since his election, Sapkota has nominated eight lawmakers from several parties to assist him in conducting the House in case he has an emergency when the session is ongoing. However, the constitution does not allow any of them to commence or close a meeting.
Parliamentary regulations even bar the Deputy Speaker from calling or closing House meetings.
Rule 6 (4) of the parliamentary regulations states that “the Speaker shall announce the beginning and closure of every House meeting.”
But Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe had set a new precedent on December 20, saying that she had a constitutional mandate.
Tambahangphe as Deputy Speaker had called a House meeting in the absence of the Speaker, as Krishna Bahadur Mahara had resigned in October last year following allegations of attempted rape. After the December 20 meeting, Tumbahangphe had herself stepped down as Deputy Speaker.
Experts on parliamentary practices, however, say since the constitution has explicitly envisioned the post of Deputy Speaker, political parties are obligated to abide by the provision and the post should not remain vacant for long.
“What if something unexpected happens to Sapkota?” said Thapa, the former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat.