Win bolsters Sitaula’s chances as Assembly chairCongress desperately wants a seat in the Constitutional Council. The upper house head is one of its members.
Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a former general secretary of Nepali Congress, was the most talked about candidate in the National Assembly elections on Thursday as he contested a seat from Koshi Province.
A ruling coalition candidate, Sitaula’s contender was Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s Uddhav Paudel, who had the backing of the main opposition CPN-UML.
Without a big gap in the expected number of votes between the ruling coalition and the opposition UML-RPP alliance, a tough contest between the two sides was anticipated. The count on Thursday proved it.
In the other upper house seat to be filled from the Koshi election, UML’s Rukmini Koirala competed against Champa Karki of the CPN (Maoist Centre), a coalition candidate.
In a surprise result, Maoist candidate Karki lost the vote to UML’s Koirala after some provincial lawmakers and some heads of local units chose to vote for the opposition candidate. Sitaula, however, won the elections.
After the results were out, Sitaula told reporters that a revolt in the CPN-UML had helped him win.
“Some UML voters voted for me against the party policy,” he told reporters in Biratnagar.
“Whenever I contested the elections or stood for national politics, I was always cornered. This time too, I felt the same [would happen] but due to the revolt within the UML, I won,” Sitaula said.
The defeat of Maoist leader Karki, a coalition candidate in Koshi, comes as an embarrassment for the coalition partners.
“We are seriously reviewing why and how Karki, the ruling alliance’s candidate, lost the elections despite the ruling alliance’s comfortable position in Koshi,” said Jeevan Pariyar, joint secretary general of the Nepali Congress.
Right from the time of candidacy filing, Sitaula’s entry into the race was being closely followed.
Ahead of the elections, Nepali Congress General Secretary Bishwa Prakash Sharma and a key Congress leader Shekhar Koirala announced that Sitaula would be made the upper house chairman. The chair will be vacant as the incumbent Ganesh Prasad Timlisina retires on March 3.
The ruling coalition is sure to elect the chair of the National Assembly as the alliance has a clear majority.
Sharma, Koirala and some other Congress leaders had been campaigning for Sitaula in Biratnagar for over two weeks.
Some Congress leaders believe Sitaula will be the Assembly chairman also because of his closeness to Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. The two leaders have had good relations ever since Sitaula played a decisive role in electing Deuba as the party president in 2021.
Some also see chances of Sitaula becoming a deputy prime minister and home minister as he has been on good terms with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal since the start of the peace process in 2006.
As home minister in the government formed after the second people’s movement, Sitaula played a vital role in bringing the Maoist rebels into the political mainstream following the end of the decade-long insurgency. Dahal and Sitaula have since had good personal relations.
Congress wants one of its members as the Assembly chair because the largest party in the House of Representatives has no representation in the Constitutional Council.
The council recommends heads and members of constitutional bodies and chief justice.
Speaker, upper house chair, leader of the main opposition, deputy speaker and chief justice are ex-officio members in the prime minister-led council. The law minister attends the meeting when a candidate for chief justice is being considered.
“We know there is already an understanding among the party leaders to make Sitaula the Assembly chairman,” said Pariyar, the Congress joint general secretary.
Some say that Sitaula might even be appointed the deputy prime minister and home minister as the prime minister is likely to soon reshuffle his Cabinet. Many ruling party leaders also see the possibility of Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who is an Assembly member, leading the upper chamber.
It all depends on the understanding between Prime Minister Dahal and Congress President Deuba, said Congress leaders.
The CPN (Maoist Centre), which is a distant third force in the House of Representatives, has emerged as the largest party in the upper house, followed by the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. Some Maoist leaders, therefore, claim that they deserve the chamber’s chair, a Congress leader said.
The desperate need for Congress to have a presence in the Constitutional Council, however, makes Sitaula a stronger candidate for the house chair.
Ram Hari Khatiwada, a Congress lawmaker, said the goal all along was to make Sitaula the upper house chair. “A person of his stature deserves to lead the assembly,” Khatiwada added.
“There was some mistake within the ruling alliance because another candidate of the coalition was defeated. Karki had lost the elections to UML's Rukmini Koirala.”