Tuesday, 26 May, 2020

The Uncalled For Impasse

Kushal Pokharel

Political fraternity in Nepal is abuzz with the issue of the election of a new speaker to the House of Representative for the past few weeks. The matter has further aggravated with dissenting views within the ruling party. In the absence of a unanimous candidate for the post, the deputy speaker has rightfully claimed for the coveted post. The claim also seems to be valid going by the past precedence of handing over the post of a Speaker to a deputy if the former steps down. Citing the eligible criteria of merit and other competencies, the deputy speaker has turned a ‘deaf ear’ to the party’s instruction to resign from the post and pave the way for a new speaker.
However, she has clearly expressed her intention not to jeopardise the process of selecting a new speaker provided that her party consents to a particular name for the post. Having said that, it is equally important to know whether or not the party can instruct a Deputy Speaker as per the constitutional provision. Article 91 (6) of the Constitution of Nepal requires the fulfillment of any one of the three conditions to remove a Deputy Speaker: termination of membership of House of Representative, written resignation or through an impeachment motion. In light of the above, it appears that it is beyond the mandate of any particular party to call back a personality of such a tall post as the constitution considers political party and parliament as two different organisations.
Moreover, clause (4) of the same article reads, “The Deputy Speaker shall in the absence of a Speaker, chair the House of Representative”. Moreover, constitutional experts have also publicly stated that the ruling party enjoys no legal or moral authority to direct the Deputy Speaker as she is no longer the member of the party after holding this post.
Amid unfolding of political events over this issue, what has appeared striking is the sheer reluctance of the ruling party to accept the Deputy Speaker as a Speaker. Despite all the required qualifications and skills, a pertinent question is what is holding back the ruling party from providing her the opportunity to chair the lower house. The party leadership is also criticised for the patriarchal mindset and there appears no convincing reason to deny the accusation. Speculation is rife that invisible hands are hell bent on thwarting the process. Despite the provision of 33 per cent reservation for women guaranteed by the constitution, effective implementation of the same have remained shaky. Whether it be the case of women representation in the government or the political party, the scenario is pretty bleak. Even in situation where women have been appointed, their status remains low. For instance, the deputy mayor in most of the local governments are women due to the constitution provision of appointment of two individuals of opposite sex as mayor and deputy mayor. But the bitter reality is that the women deputy mayor have been stripped of their executive powers and remain in the seat as mere token symbol.
The matter of resignation has become deeply politicised. Amid this scenario, the opposition leader has publicly attempted to fish in troubled waters asking the ruling party to offer the post to Nepali Congress. With women rights activists and other organisations warning of taking to the streets if the Deputy Speaker is not elevated to the top post, the issue has come to the public domain. Likewise, the general support to the present Deputy Speaker looks overwhelming if the social media is anything to rely upon.
If the matter remains unaddressed, it is likely to get complicated with the prolonged delay in the appointment to a post of national significance. This not only affects the credibility of the ruling party but also deepens the fissure within the party. Ranging from MCC row to the current issue, the party has witnessed internal contradictions to the extent of public warnings by the senior leaders of a severe crisis looming large.
More importantly, the winter session of the House will be further impeded implicating the fate of several bills that are to be endorsed. Realising the urgency of the situation, the ruling party needs to resolve this matter amicably. Stepping back from original stances by the two party supremos should be the first step towards this direction. In fact, the party has a historic opportunity to rise above petty interests and back a bonafide Deputy Speaker to the post of the Speaker. This will give a positive message towards gender mainstreaming.
Hence, breaking the Speaker impasse has become extremely urgent and calls for proactive party leadership. Making the parliament a hostage to the internal power tussle in no way helps the cause.

(The author is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS.) 

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