December 14, 2017 08:40 AM NPT
By: Ashok Dahal
KATHMANDU, Dec 14: Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML find themselves at odds whether the new prime minister should be elected prior to the formation of the National Assembly, the upper house of parliament.
CPN-UML, which is in waiting to form the new government with the support of left-alliance partner CPN (Maoist Center), claims that the new prime minister can be appointed by the president even prior to the election of the upper house. But the NC, which has met with a humiliating defeat in the just concluded polls, insists that parliament can’t take full shape without the election of the upper house.
The crux of the dispute is whether the proportional representation (PR) seats can be allocated to the political parties prior to the election of the upper house.
NC has argued that the Election Commission (EC) cannot declare the number of women lawmakers without first holding elections to the National Assembly. NC leaders said the EC needs to ask political parties to ensure at least 33 percent women representation in parliament as a whole, including the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. They said if a sufficient number of women lawmakers are not elected to the National Assembly, the EC needs to ask the political parties to make up the shorfall from the lower house.
“The EC will get an idea on how many women need to be given PR seats by each political party only after the number of women elected to the National Assembly is clear,” said NC leader Bal Krishna Khand, who is considered a confidant of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Leaders of the NC have taken Article 84(8) of the new constitution as the basis for their argument that ‘at least one third of the total number of members elected from each political party represented in the Federal Parliament must be women.’
NC’s claim is similar to a tweet earlier this week by Election Commissioner Ila Sharma, stating that the election of the National Assembly should be conducted before the allocation of PR seats.
Terming the NC’s claim invalid, UML leaders have accused it of trying to prolong its stay in office. “Article 86 (1A) of the constitution has a mandatory provision that at least three women must be elected from each of the seven provinces, which will be enough to ensue 33 percent women in the National Assembly. So why should the EC wait for the PR seat allocations?” asked former law minister and UML leader Agni Kharel. He also termed Commissioner Sharma’s argument as her personal opinion.
NC has stated that President Bidya Devi Bhandari should authenticate the ordinance on the election of the National Assembly, which has remained shelved at her office for nearly two months. “We can hold the election for the National Assembly within a week once the law comes into effect. So it will be wise to authenticate the bill and pave the way for the upper house election,” said NC leader Khand.
But the UML and NC have differing views over the election provision in the ordinance. The government has proposed a single transferable vote system in the ordinance, which was opposed by UML in the outgoing parliamentary session.
“The new government, immediately after it is formed, will bring in the law for election of the National Assembly. So we shouldn’t engage in a procedural dispute over the formation of the new government,” said Kharel of UML.
NC has insisted on vote transfers, which can help it secure more members in the upper house. But UML is for a majority voting system because the party has won most seats in both the provincial assemblies and in local elections. Provincial assembly members and the chiefs and deputy chiefs of the local units vote for members of the National Assembly. But provincial lawmakers and local unit office bearers will have different vote weightage. The vote of one provincial assembly member will be equal to three votes of local unit chiefs, according to the proposed ordinance.