Speaker backs new Koshi chief minister, kicks up controversyLegal experts deem coalition parties’ inclusion of Speaker as a signatory backing Uddhav Thapa as ‘unconstitutional’
The politics of Koshi Province is in a quagmire. As Province Head Parshuram Khapung on Thursday appointed Nepali Congress parliamentary party leader Uddhav Thapa as the new chief minister, based on claims of majority with the Speaker’s backing, constitutional experts have denounced the move as unconstitutional.
Thapa was appointed in accordance with Article 168(2) of the constitution after he laid claim to lead a majority-based government with the signatures of 46 lawmakers and Speaker Baburam Gautam. Signatures of 29 lawmakers from the Congress, 13 from the CPN (Maoist Centre) including the Speaker’s, four from the CPN (Unified Socialist) and one from the Janata Samajbadi Party were submitted to the provincial head.
But the coalition parties’ inclusion of Speaker Gautam as one of the signatories supporting Thapa for chief minister has been termed ‘unconstitutional’ by legal experts.
“It’s a blunder,” said Bhimarjun Acharya, a constitutional expert. “We cannot imagine the involvement of a Speaker in the formation of a new government.”
Another constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari said the province head could have used his discretion to stop the ‘unconstitutional step’. “He should have clearly said that the Speaker cannot sign to prove a majority.”
Constitutional experts said the Speaker’s is a neutral position as the person detaches himself/herself from partisan allegiance after assuming office.
“The Speaker is the leader of the whole provincial assembly,” said another constitutional expert Chandra Kanta Gyawali. “In case of the motions and bills presented in the provincial assembly, if there is a tie, the Speaker can cast the decisive vote. But they can’t be involved in making and breaking governments.”
Article 186 of the constitution envisions the Speaker voting only to break a tie. It states that all questions submitted for a decision in the Provincial Assembly shall be decided by a majority vote of the members present and participating in voting. “The member presiding over the meeting shall not have the right to vote…Provided that he or she may exercise his or her casting vote in the case of a tie.”
On getting elected to the post, Koshi Speaker Baburam Gautam had renounced his allegiance with the Maoist party as long as he remained in the post.
The UML, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, and some ruling party leaders are strictly opposed to the idea of the Speaker backing a party to form a new government.
Earlier on Thursday, the CPN-UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party had submitted a memorandum to the province head asking him not to recognise the claim made with the support of the incumbent Speaker. They have argued that a Speaker cannot take sides to form a government as the position of the head of the legislature is neutral.
Even key leaders of the ruling coalition in Kathmandu have opposed the idea of taking the Speaker’s support to form a government. Writing on social media, Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala said the Speaker signing to form a new government is against the principle of constitutional supremacy and democratic parliamentary system.
“If the Speaker, except casting a vote to break a tie in the parliamentary process… becomes active and casts a vote for forming, removing or supporting the executive, such a move will be against the dignity and practice of parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law.”
Province Head Khapung on Sunday had issued a notice calling on political parties to come up with a proposal to form a new government by 5 pm Thursday. Coalition partners had earlier sought the support of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party to form the government in Koshi. But the party declined to join the new coalition.
The Koshi provincial assembly is 93-strong.
Chief Minister Hikmat Bahadur Karki lost the position after failing to secure the vote of confidence during the floor test in the provincial assembly on June 30. He then led the government as an acting chief minister.
Following his election, Congress leader Thapa said he will form a small Cabinet and continue to try to garner the support of more assembly members to secure a vote of confidence.
Experts have warned that such a move poses a big question over the neutrality and the dignity of the position.
“How will the Speaker be in a neutral position now? If the Speaker signs to form the government, it’s a political act and they become the Speaker of a political alliance,” said Gyawali, the constitutional expert.
Koshi Speaker Gautam, however, claims he studied parliamentary practices elsewhere and found that Speakers’ names are also included while sending the list of assembly members/lawmakers to the President or governors to stake claim to a majority government. “This matter has become noticeable in our province due to the tricky parliamentary numbers here.”
According to him, he acted not out of choice but out of obligation. “We had to find a way to end the stalemate. We could not have an impasse in the province. I will maintain my neutrality and will not at all compromise on my responsibility,” he told the Post.