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House meeting postponed after dispute arises over who should speak first

- Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

Jul 16, 2019-

As the country continues to reel from floods and landslides that have left at least 70 dead, the House of Representatives meeting has been postponed by nine days following a dispute over who should address the House first. 

The opposition parties, who registered a motion of public importance seeking a discussion on devastation triggered by a recent torrential downpour, demanded that they be allowed to table the motion first. The ruling party, however, asked that Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa be allowed to first inform the House about the ongoing crisis before initiating a discussion on the motion. 

A meeting of the cross-party chief whips and whips, called by Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, remained log-jammed as both sides refused to yield, leading to the postponement of the Lower House till July 24. The speaker chose a later date to allow time for lawmakers to visit their constituencies and support rescue and relief efforts, according to a Parliamentary notice announcing the postponement. 

The Speaker believed that postponing the meeting was a better option than inviting yet another House obstruction, said Dilli Malla, press advisor to Mahara. 

“The Speaker wanted the parties to come together and discuss the disaster. Postponement was his last resort,” Malla told the Post.

With the next meeting postponed by more than a week, both sides were quick to assign blame on the others. Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba said that he was amazed to see that the Nepal Communist Party did not want to discuss the suffering of the people.

“A large number of people have suffered due to floods and landslides. This must have been discussed in Parliament,” Deuba said after the meeting. “We condemn the act of postponing the House meet.” 

The ruling party leaders, however, said that the opposition is looking for opportunities to obstruct House proceedings. 

“We could’ve dedicated the entire House meeting to discuss the disaster and the people’s suffering after the Home Minister’s briefing,” Dev Gurung, chief whip for the ruling party, told the Post. “It is the opposition’s unnecessary stance that led to the meeting’s postponement.”

Monday’s obstruction was the second time in a month where a dispute over who should address the House first led to its postponement. A Lower House meeting on June 18 was postponed as Deuba wanted to address the House before Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The prime minister, who was already at the rostrum, had to return without speaking after the opposition surrounded the well.

But political analysts believe that this incident, like the one in June, reflected poorly on the Speaker. 

“It is the duty of the Speaker to make sure the House isn’t held hostage to the party interest,” said Surya Kiran Gurung, former general secretary of the Parliament Secretariat.

As the House primarily belongs to the opposition, Mahara must have allowed the opposition to put its views first and then provide time for the government to respond, said Gurung. 

“It appears that the Speaker has failed to understand the spirit of separation of powers and has been working at the behest of the government,” he said. 

However, Bipin Adhikari, former dean of the Kathmandu University School of Law, disagrees that the opposition should’ve been allowed to speak first. The opposition was wrong in June and it is wrong now, he said. 

“There is no doubt that the government must listen to the opposition and it should get ample time to put forth its views. This, however, doesn’t mean that the opposition has to speak before the government’s representatives,” Adhikari told the Post.

Adhikari, a constitutional affairs analyst, said that it is the responsibility of the government to inform the people through their representatives about issues of public importance. The opposition is then allowed to raise questions.

Adhikari, however, agreed with Gurung’s assessment of the Speaker. 

“The effectiveness of a speaker can be judged by how well he manages the ruling party and the opposition,” said Adhikari. “Sadly, Mahara has failed on that front.

Published: 16-07-2019 07:50

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