Speaker's Role

Vital For Efficient Parliament

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Parliament is a cornerstone of democracy and plays an integral role in the legislative process. Through selecting representatives to represent the people, parliament ensures that their views are heard at the highest levels of government. But its function is often questioned when it comes to maintaining impartiality and neutrality while adopting significant legislations or making key decisions that can shape a nation's future. This makes the role of Speaker, who chairs the parliament, all-important in making or marring the reputation of Legislature, which, along with Executive and Judiciary are known as ‘the three estates of democracy’.

Recently, the country's ruling parties attempted to curtail the powers of the House of Representatives Speaker, Devraj Ghimire. They contended Ghimire went against the common agreement between the ruling parties and himself in scheduling House meetings. While proposing many changes to House regulations, the parties attempted to limit the Speaker's authority. The speaker has the authority to call House sessions, but the ruling parties sought to compel him to seek the approval of Parliament's Business Advisory Committee, a cross-party committee of chief whips, whips, and some lawmakers, in order to do so. The CPN-UML slammed the ruling parties' decision, claiming that it violated democratic parliamentary traditions.

Impartiality 

Nevertheless, following rounds of discussions between Speaker Ghimire and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and other leaders, the plan to limit the Speaker's authority was rescinded. The uproar by ruling parties over Speaker Ghimire's "arbitrary behaviour" highlights the role and responsibility of the Speaker in maintaining impartiality as well as the decorum of the House, his role in ensuring that parliamentary procedures and rules are followed and that all members are given an equal opportunity to express their views. He or she presides over legislative sessions, ensuring that debates and discussions are conducted in an orderly way and chairs parliamentary committees responsible for supervising the operation of the parliament, such as committees that scrutinise legislation, examine government policies, and investigate matters of public interest.

Yet, Speakers are occasionally chastised for their unparliamentary and biased behaviour. They are sometimes reprimanded for acting on "behalf of their mother parties." Speaker Ghimire is regarded with distrust by the present coalition partners since he used to be a parliamentarian from the main opposition party, the UML. Previous Speakers Agni Prasad Sapkota and Krishna Bahadur Mahara, both functionaries of the CPN-Maoist Centre, were also criticised for 'failing to maintain neutrality.' For example, the UML rapped former Speaker Sapkota for failing to preserve neutrality when he initiated action against UML MPs. Sapkota was accused of acting quickly to dismiss certain MPs who chose to stay in the UML after gaining parliamentary seats on Maoist platforms. 

Yet he did not act as quickly in dismissing 14 UML MPs who left the UML to form a new breakaway party, the CPN- Unified Socialist Party. The UML has previously accused Speakers Mahara and Sapkota of preventing the House from debating the contentious Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) pact. The Speaker's preference for mother parties has frequently resulted in situations in which he is unable to maintain impartiality and neutrality. It is critical to recognise that the Speaker represents the whole House, and as such, he or she must have a high moral character and guarantee that their acts are fair and reasonable. They must be fair in enabling members of the opposition and ruling parties, to be heard in the House chamber.

On the other hand, in order to preserve the integrity of the institution of the Speaker in a parliamentary society, political parties represented in the House should not attempt to undermine or limit the Speaker's position. Because he or she is a necessary component of the democratic process, restricting his or her rights would violate the time-tested idea of checks and balances among the three estates of democracy. Speakers must have full authority to conduct parliamentary business, and any attempt to weaken their authority risks undermining democracy.

The current situation in Nepal, on the other hand, is reason for concern because the ruling parties exhibited their lack of confidence in the Speaker, claiming that he had broken pledges. Yet, political parties realised that changing the rules to limit the speaker's powers would establish a bad precedent in our parliamentary system. It is, therefore, important to remember that the success of our House of Representatives is dependent on the role of the Speaker in relation to political parties that also bear a large amount of responsibility for ensuring a fair, just, and democratic legislative process. They must work for the greater good while adhering to democratic values.

Transparency 

When managing House business, speakers must remain unbiased and neutral and should not be influenced by the urges of their mother parties. They are responsible for ensuring that parliamentary processes are observed and that the House's decorum is maintained. They must be the House's voice and maintain democratic values, especially in the face of opposition. Besides ensuring that elected lawmakers are fairly represented in decision-making processes, the Speaker’s function in the House is critical in overseeing the government’s policies and acts. He may serve as a catalyst for our House of Representatives to effectively enact legislation and policies that benefit the people and the country.

While the government has major responsibilities to provide business to the House, and ruling and opposition lawmakers have key roles to maintain parliament’s sanctity, effectiveness and smooth functioning, the Speaker must ensure fairness and impartiality at all times in order to foster a sense of trust among the members of the House. Furthermore, openness and transparency are paramount for building strong relationships between the Speaker and representatives of the people. Proper oversight, accountability, utmost care for upholding decorum and openness in communication can work wonders in bringing high respect for Speakers from political parties, lawmakers and those they are supposed to serve.

 (Upadhyay is Managing Editor of this daily.)

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