Leaving both chambers without MPs is a poor reflection of party commitments

As its five-year term ends later this year, Nepal’s House of Representatives, which lost about a year due to dissolutions and filibusters, found itself without the Vice Speaker for half of the period.

The position has remained vacant since Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe resigned on January 20, 2020 after being denied the position of President, and Agni Sapkota was chosen for the position instead. Sapkota, from the CPN (Maoist Center), became the President on January 26, 2020.

She was forced to resign because article 91 of the constitution stipulates that the president and the vice-president cannot be from the same party. At that time, Tumbahangphe and Sapkota were part of the then Communist Party of Nepal.

For Nepalese political parties, however, the post of vice-president has not become a priority, and some women leaders believe that this could also be because a woman was to be appointed to this post.

While expressing her views during the budget discussions in Parliament on Thursday, CPN-UML MP Niru Devi Pal said that simply talking about women’s empowerment in the budget is not enough as long as there were no concerted efforts and actions.

“Just writing that it’s a women-friendly budget doesn’t make it that way. This must be reflected in the action,” she said. “The vice-president’s chair is waiting for ‘her’. Hasn’t this ruling coalition seen it? When will the position be filled? »

Pal may have used the issue of the vice-presidential post to attack the ruling coalition, but until this government of Sher Bahadur Deuba was formed in July last year, his party, the UML, led the government.

It was during the tenure of UML President KP Sharma Ol that the position became vacant.

Now, not just vice president, the post of vice president in the National Assembly has also been vacant since March 5 after Shashi Kala Dahal retired at the end of his four-year term. The same constitutional provision also applies to the National Assembly – the President and Vice President cannot be elected from the same party and gender. UML’s Ganesh Timilsina currently chairs the upper house.

Nepal’s male-dominated political parties have made countless promises for the empowerment of women, but they seem to be doing little for their representation in various organs of the state, unless there are constitutional provisions or legal.

The Nepalese Parliament has 33% women legislators because the constitution requires it. Article 84 (8) stipulates that women members constitute at least one third of the total number of elected members of the federal parliament from the respective parties.

For the positions of mayor and deputy mayor or presidents and vice-presidents as well, the law stipulates that a party must present a man and a woman. In wards, it is legally binding for the parties to appoint a woman and a Dalit woman as members.

Nepalese parties, instead of fulfilling legal and constitutional obligations, are trying to find loopholes, thus keeping women out of decision-making positions.

Also in the case of the vice president, the parties did not bother to appoint anyone, as there is no constitutional or legal provision defining how long the post can remain vacant.

In early June 2020, lawyer Tulasi Simkhada had reached the Supreme Court, arguing that since the vice president is a member of the Constitutional Council, the position cannot remain vacant for months. His petition was given priority in the Supreme Court.

On June 26, 2020, the court issued a show cause notice to the government and the president’s secretariat regarding the delay in the election of the vice president. A single bench of Judge Prakash Dhungana had ordered the defendants to provide written clarification within 15 days.

The government and the president’s secretariat claimed in their response that it was the prerogative of parliament to elect the vice president, so they are not in a position to intervene in this matter.

According to the constitution, the president and vice president must be elected within 15 days of the meeting of the House.

However, it does not specify a deadline for the election of the vice-president in the event of the incumbent’s resignation.

Legal experts say delaying the electoral process for months is against the spirit of the constitution.

“This is gross negligence on the part of the parties. Neither the CPN-UML took the issue seriously when it was in power with a majority, nor the current coalition is serious about the issue “, Simkhada told the Post. “This is a flagrant violation of the constitution.

Although the Supreme Court prioritized the petition, it delayed the hearing.

Now the hearing is scheduled for August 23. The expiry date of the current House’s mandate is unclear. But the polls to elect a new one will probably take place in November.

Parliamentary affairs experts say the prime minister to the president and the speaker of the National Assembly are responsible for the delay. According to them, political parties must perform certain functions regardless of whether they are obliged to do so under constitutional or legal provisions.

Daman Nath Dhungana, a former president, said not everything is written in the constitution.

“Not electing the vice president and vice president in both houses is against the spirit of the constitution,” he said. “No one is interested in fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities.”

According to him, if the parties did not take initiatives, the president of the Chamber and the president of the National Assembly should have nudged the politicians and started the process.

“It is a pity that the term of the lower house expires without having a vice president for years while the National Assembly has been without a vice president for months,” Dhungana said. “The leadership of the federal parliament also seems very weak in an unprecedented way.”

Officials of the Secretariat of Parliament say that it is essentially up to the political parties to choose the president and vice-president.

“I can just say that no process has been launched so far to elect the vice president,” Gopal Nath Yogi, secretary to the House of Representatives, told the Post. “I cannot say when the vice-president will be elected. The parties decide in this matter.