This article was written on December 12, 2019
Since October 1, after the former Speaker of Nepal Krishna Bahadur Mahara resigned following rape allegations, the post of Speaker remains vacant. The Deputy Speaker, Ms Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe, who is registered in the Election Commission as an NCP member, has been unable to begin and close House meetings, as the parliamentary regulations restrict the Deputy Speaker from doing so.
It is quite interesting to analyze why no Speaker has been appointed even after two months, despite the complexities the lack of a Speaker has created. First of all, our Constitution stipulates that the elections for Speaker and Deputy Speaker should be held in a way to ensure that the two are the representatives of different political parties and also that one of them is a woman. This constitutional provision means that one party cannot have both the posts. Because Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Siva Maya Tumbahamfe represented two different parties, the NCP-Maoist and the CPN-UML respectively, during their nomination, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) enjoyed a rare privilege of having both the posts to itself after the parties merged. Now that the post of Speaker is up for grabs, while the CPN still has its party representative as the Deputy Speaker, appointing the House Speaker has been a particularly challenging task for the major parties.
What does CPN want?
What is certain is that the ruling CPN wants their representative as the House Speaker. However, as long as Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe is the Deputy-Speaker of the House, nominating a party member for the Speaker remains out of constitutional feasibility. Taking advantage of this unique situation, the main opposition, Nepali Congress (NC), despite the well-realized futility of its aspiration, has been eyeing the post. But the CPN does not seem too generous to secede the post to any other party. Instead, the ruling party has reportedly asked the Deputy Speaker to step down from the post, which would pave a path for the nomination of Speaker from the party. After some initial hesitation, Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe seems to have now succumbed to the party’s pressure. She will most likely resign from the post of Deputy Speaker as soon as the winter House sessions begin later this month, after which the party will nominate its representative for the House Speaker.
Tumbahamfe’s nomination or resignation?
Will the CPN nominate Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe for the Speaker? Probably not. The three times Speaker, Subash Chandra Nembang, has been speculated to be the likeliest candidate, although Agni Sapkota and others are among top choices representing the former Maoist camp. So, the question is whether and why the current Deputy Speaker should resign. According to the existing parliamentary provisions, her term extends for five years, and she does not have to resign if she so wishes. After all, she claims to have already given up her party membership. So under these circumstances, when the party’s top choice for the position is not herself, Tumbahamfe’s resignation will signal her future political aspirations. It will otherwise be hampered by her soured relationship with the NCP if she chooses to not resign. Some could claim her resignation—if the party does not nominate her for the Speaker—to be an act of political intimidation. Others have been questioning the party’s pressure for her resignation as she no longer holds party membership and therefore she does not have any obligation to the NCP.
It is useful to discuss why it is very unlikely that the NCP will nominate Tumbahamfe as the Speaker. It is no secret that Nepal is still sickened by patriarchy and that its attempts for gender inclusion have largely remained nominal, and here are some facts. Of the 26 members in the Council of Ministers, only two are female. This gender gap is also prevalent at local levels. When the Election Commission mandated that a political party make a gender-even nomination for chief and deputy chief in each local unit, only 25% of the major/chairperson nominations were given to women. Unsurprisingly, men won 98% of the chief positions—mayors and chairperson—whereas women candidates won 91% of the deputy positions. On the one hand, these data demonstrate that our attempts for gender inclusion have been a mere instrument to please gender activists and civil society organizations. On the other hand, the data also speak about the patriarchal mindset of the majority Nepali. Nepali population is still so possessed by gender stereotypes and roles that their perception towards a female candidate and leader is pitiful. For the political parties that are in power struggle against each other, nominating male candidates for chief positions seems only logical. Therefore, in reality, women leaders continue to be subordinates and under the helm of their male counterparts. As the common saying goes, people get the leaders they deserve.
Will CPN nominate Tumbahafe?
Against this backdrop, therefore, expecting to see the CPN nominate Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe for the Speaker would be farcical. Arguing against seeking quotas and making bargains for the chief posts, senior party leaders have stressed over “individual competency and ability,” which implies to Tumbahamfe’s incompetency for the House Speaker. Nembang or Sapkota may be more experienced than the current Deputy Speaker, but that does not mean she is incapable. Not only does she have over 40 years of experience in Nepali politics but she also has a PhD in Political Science. She just happens to be a woman, whose leadership in the House seems unacceptable to the party, especially when NCP has to deal with the internal party politics and manage its leaders. Her resignation and the subsequent appointment of the Speaker from among other members of the party, therefore, will cement the fact that women deserve only the subordinate posts in Nepal. What a pleasant surprise it will be for Nepal, if, after she resigns, the NCP nominates her for the Speaker.
Edited on February 4, 2020
Agni Sapkota as the New Speaker
On January 26, Agni Sapkota, from the Maoist faction of the CPN, was elected the House Speaker, ending almost a 3-month-long uncertainty over filling the post. His nomination from the ruling party and the unanimous appointment became a possibility only after what seemed like a broader power-sharing agreement among the senior leaders—Oli, Dahal, and Deuba; what followed after the settlement was the deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe’s resignation, which paved the path for NCP to nominate and appoint Sapkota as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. His appointment, however, has exposed the sorry state of Nepal’s democracy, where political elites comfortably oversee justice and inclusion in their quest for money, power, and influence.
Tumbahamfe’s resignation and the subsequent appointment of Agni Sapkota as the Speaker presented ample talking points for both gender and human rights activists. On the one hand, NCP pressured Tumbahamfe to step down so that they could nominate their preferred candidate, whereas, on the other hand, the party nominated Sapkota—a former Maoist leader who has “pending murder case against him for a conflict-era killing.” In a single event, therefore, the ruling party succeeded in not only upsetting the gender and human rights activists but also making a complete mockery of the country’s transitional justice process. Sapkota’s appointment was a result of political settlement among the top leaders, where Nepali Congress got to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by allowing NCP to elect Sapkota unopposed.
Tumbahamfe questioned and criticized a lot many people over having to sacrifice her position because of someone else’s deeds and also lambasted the government for upholding patriarchy by neither letting her complete her term nor nominating her as the Speaker. Her resignation, however, disappointed many and put a question mark to her intentions as well; besides president Bidya Devi Bhandari’s backing, the issue had garnered nationwide support, and she bore no obligation to resign whatsoever. Instead of sticking to her determination, though, she gave in, allowing skeptics to interpret the move as her reluctance to gamble with her political career by confronting the party she represented. Nevertheless, whatever the seeming causes may be, her involuntary resignation once again painted the unfortunate image of women’s fate in Nepali politics.
Heading the main law-making body of the country now is the controversial Agni Sapkota, who shoulders some serious immediate responsibilities. Besides emerging clean out of the allegations against him and establishing his legitimacy, the incumbent Speaker will have to pass the test in the House itself, which awaits him in the form of several controversial bills and the much-debated MCC.
Author: Mahesh Kushwaha