House held hostage to NCP indecision

Indecision on the part of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) today forced deferral of the meeting of the House of Representatives for the second time, with constitution experts terming the situation a ‘betrayal of the constitution’.

The HoR meeting, slated for tomorrow, was postponed till January 12 after a meeting between NCP Co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamala Dahal this morning failed to agree on the election of a new speaker. The post has remained vacant since the arrest of Krishna Bahadur Mahara on the charge of attempt to rape. 

Earlier, the meeting was postponed on December 27 until January 1. The Bill Session kicked off on December 20.

With the HoR held hostage to NCP indecision, constitution expert Bhimarjun Acharya blamed the deferral on political parties treating the Parliament and the constitution as their ‘puppets’.

Acharya said the constitution had clearly put in place due procedure on vacating and appointment of speaker and deputy speaker. Once the post falls vacant, it is the House’s fundamental responsibility to make appointment at the earliest possible.

“This is the House’s mandate and power. However, the House has not been allowed to discharge its responsibility because political command has prevailed over the constitution and the Parliament,” Acharya told THT. “This is a betrayal of the constitution.” 

Acharya also said the trend would ultimately put the constitution and the system in jeopardy. “The constitution not only has legal authority, but also moral authority,” he said. “The moral authority depends on the conduct of political parties. Here, the parties are treating the constitution and the Parliament as their puppets.”

Moreover, failure to elect a new speaker has affected regular House proceedings. There are more than 40 bills awaiting House approval.

There are also around five crucial bills, including the Police Personnel Adjustment Bill, that have already been approved by the House, but are awaiting the speaker’s certification to be forwarded to the president for authentication.

The House has not been able to conduct regular proceedings on the ground that the constitution does not allow the deputy speaker to discharge speaker’s duties except presiding over the House meetings.

However, constitution expert Bipin Adhikari termed it as ‘conservative interpretation of the constitution’ and said the House should not have been halted just because the speaker’s election is pending.

According to Adhikari, since the constitution allows the deputy speaker to preside over HoR proceedings in the absence of speaker, the incumbent becomes the presiding officer of the House. And as per the House norms and global trend, it is the presiding officer that takes the decision, he added.

Stating that it was not necessary for the constitution or law to mention everything explicitly, Adhikari said the charter allowing the deputy speaker to preside over the HoR proceedings was enough to empower the deputy speaker to discharge the speaker’s duties as the presiding officer of the House.

“The deputy speaker not being allowed to do so means not accepting the incumbent. If so, why do we need a deputy speaker?” questioned Adhikari. “On the one hand, we offer the deputy speaker all the facilities, remuneration and security, and on the other we say the incumbent cannot take decisions. This is not coherent.”

Adhikari argued that since the speaker’s post was not an executive post as the prime minister’s, the incumbent had to agree to what the House decided, there was nothing wrong in the deputy speaker discharging the speaker’s role in the latter’s absence.

Adhikari blamed the conservative interpretation of the constitution on parties’ narrow-minded attitude not to empower the deputy speaker, who, as per the constitutional provision, came from a party other than the ruling party.

Published on December 31, 2019.