The prolonged impasse over the election of a new speaker of the federal lower house, and deputy speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe’s refusal to step down, give one overarching message: the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is still very much a divided house, nearly 20 months after the formal unity of the country’s two largest communist forces. Popular media has backed Tumbahamphe’s resolute stand against the ‘party patriarchy’ that wants her to go. But she might have resigned by now without the covert backing of both President Bidya Bhandari and PM KP Oli.
Party co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been vehement about the need to remove Tumbahamphe and start a new process for the election of new speaker and deputy speaker. His co-chair, Oli, wants to ensure the speaker’s post does not go to the former Maoist faction. The expelled ex-speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara was from the faction, and Dahal insists Agni Sapkota, another old Maoist stalwart, should replace Mahara. As the speaker and deputy speaker cannot come from the same party, by asking Tumbahamphe to hang on, Oli is putting pressure on Dahal and ex-Maoists to give up speakership in favor of Subhas Nembang, Oli’s own pick as the speaker.
There is also a geopolitical twist to the speakership saga. By preventing another Maoist from becoming the speaker, PM Oli wants to guarantee a smooth passage of the American MCC compact in the parliament. Former speaker Mahara had famously declined the tabling and voting on the MCC bill. The ex-Maoists suspect the MCC is a part of the American ‘military’ Indo-Pacific Strategy brought with the sole intent of countering China’s rise in Nepal. But as much as he is beholden to China, PM Oli, as government head, also wants to safeguard old relations with the US.
This disturbed dynamics of a single party have left Nepal without a speaker for three months. The House has been repeatedly obstructed. In the past 30 years of democratic exercise, the country has had to pay dearly for past feuds among ruling parties, contributing to the collapse of successive governments and creating perpetual instability. The political parties seem to have learnt little. The ruling party should be mindful. The short-sightedness of its leaders could open up new fissures in the NCP and push the country into another vortex of instability and corrosive big-power rivalry.