Maoists first became top upper house force. Now they claim chairPrime Minister Dahal denies having given word to Congress on making Krishna Prasad Sitaula Assembly chairman.
On Tuesday, the CPN (Maoist Centre) declared its intent to claim the National Assembly chair, giving a new twist to the dynamics within the ruling alliance. The development comes as the Nepali Congress, the largest party in the coalition, has already expressed its interest in the post.
The ruling coalition is certain to elect the chair of the National Assembly given its clear majority in the chamber. However, the claim from the Maoist Centre has put the ruling coalition on the path of a confrontation.
Nepali Congress has publicly announced that its former secretary general Krishna Prasad Sitaula will be the candidate for the assembly chair. Sitaula was elected to the assembly from the Koshi Province in the January 25 election.
Earlier, some Congress leaders including General Secretary Bishwa Prakash Sharma and senior leader Dr Shekhar Koirala had claimed that there was an agreement between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba to field Sitaula as the ruling alliance’s common candidate for assembly chair. They had said Sitaula’s role as upper house chair would be instrumental in completing the remaining tasks of the peace process.
But on Tuesday, a meeting of the Maoist parliamentary party decided that the party will claim the post.
“We, being the largest party in the National Assembly, will stake our claim to the post,” said Dahal.
Although the Maoist Centre stands distant third in the lower house, after the recent election, it has emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly. The election to pick the chair is scheduled for March 12.
“By virtue of being the largest party in the National Assembly, we will assert our claim to the post,” said Devendra Poudel, secretary of the Maoist Center. “But we are yet to fix a candidate.”
“It could be Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha or present Deputy Chair Urmila Aryal, or Jhakku Subedi,” another Maoist Centre lawmaker said.
“After Prime Minister Dahal completes his term after 11 months, we won’t have representation in the Constitutional Council. We have made this claim in order to secure our place in the council,” said Poudel.
But the final decision will be taken by the ruling alliance, he added.
The terms of 20 lawmakers including Chairman Ganesh Prasad Timilsina in the 59-strong upper house are expiring on March 3. A total of 19 members were elected on January 25. The President will nominate one member on the Cabinet’s recommendation.
“There was a gentleman’s agreement between Dahal and Deuba to make Sitaula chair of the National Assembly,” a Nepali Congress central working committee member claimed. “Our party hopes that the prime minister will not breach the agreement.”
“Yes, the Maoists will lay claim to the post, but ultimately, Sitaula will be the National Assembly chair,” said Ram Hari Khatiwada, a Nepali Congress lawmaker. He claimed Prime Minister Dahal had himself previously proposed Sitaula for the upper house chair.
“In fact, Prime Minister Dahal had even wanted to support Situala for the post of President,” added Khatiwada. However, later, Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel was elected President with the backing of the ruling coalition.
Some Congress leaders believe Sitaula will be the assembly chairman also due to his closeness to party president Deuba. The two leaders have enjoyed good relations ever since Sitaula played a decisive role in electing Deuba as party chief in 2021. Sitaula also maintains good relations with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Congress desperately wants a seat in the Constitutional Council, of which the upper house head is a member.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Maoist Centre, some lawmakers had raised concerns about the longevity and effectiveness of the alliance with the Congress, which is increasingly being perceived as unnatural.
According to Madhav Sapkota, a Maoist Centre lawmaker, during the meeting, Dahal said a person like Sitaula could potentially serve as the chair of the National Assembly, but he has also not given any assurance to Congress leaders on Sitaula.
“In the meeting, we said that our partnership with the Congress has not been productive and it also does not look natural given our ideological differences,” said Sapkota. “We suggested that it is time to reassess the collaboration.”
“Some Nepali Congress leaders are insisting that Sitaula is the architect of the peace process. But one, the prime minister has not given any assurances to the Congress. Two, we have to reassess our ties with Congress and consider contesting the election independently,” he said.
Sapkota spoke of how the electoral alliances with both the UML and the Congress had failed to benefit the Maoist party. “So in the next parliamentary elections, even if we stand to win just a seat, we should still contest the elections independently,” he said.
The Maoist Centre is miffed with the Congress after its upper house candidate Champa Karki lost the assembly election from Koshi Province despite the coalition having enough votes to win against CPN-UML’s Rukmini Koirala. Sitaula and Karki were contesting the elections from the ruling alliance for the two vacant assembly seats from Koshi, but Maoist candidate Karki lost the election to UML’s Koirala. But the coalition’s other candidate Sitaula was elected.
The Maoist Centre has taken Karki’s defeat seriously and already raised it at the meeting of the ruling alliance.
“At least a dozen Maoist lawmakers questioned the alliance with the Nepali Congress,” a Maoist lawmaker said. “If the Congress continues to deceive us, how can we work together?”
Besides Karki’s defeat, Maoist lawmakers highlighted similar instances of ‘deception’ by the Congress in local, provincial and federal elections.
The Maoist Centre lawmakers also reviewed the performance of the government and Maoist ministers.
“Although the government is doing well, its impression among the public is not good,” Urmila Majhi, another Maoist Centre lawmaker, said. “We lead the government but we don’t have control over the state.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Shrestha also briefed the meeting on the government’s ongoing initiatives on various corruption-related cases. Some participating lawmakers were of the view that courts are not helping the government, as they continue to give clean chits to several individuals accused of corruption.
Many lawmakers spoke strongly in favour of giving continuity to the ongoing campaign against corruption and irregularities.
“The prime minister instructed us to present ourselves effectively in both chambers of Parliament,” said Hitraj Pandey, chief whip of the Maoist Centre. “Given recent changes in conducting the House session and the early commencement of pre-budget discussions, the prime minister said that the party will impart in-house training to Maoist lawmakers.”
In the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Shrestha said the government has been in a difficult situation since its inception and it is still facing challenges from domestic and external elements.
“Despite the challenges, the government remains committed to its priorities of good governance, prosperity and social justice,” Poudel said, quoting the deputy prime minister.