Ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has made a mockery of rule of law and justice, sent a troubling message and set a disturbing precedent by fielding Agni Prasad Sapkota for speaker of the House of Representatives. This is the decision that will have long-term repercussions in party’s image and is going to further erode credibility of the government. Agni Sapkota is a wrong choice for the prestigious post of the speaker for one big reason. He has been accused of murdering a schoolteacher in Kavrepalanchowk during the insurgency and the case against him is sub judice at the Supreme Court. Now the ruling NCP is poised to elevate the murder-accused to the post of the speaker. If he had been declared innocent by the court, it would be a different matter but NCP did not show patience to wait for the court’s decision. Hearing in Sapokata’s case is scheduled for February 5.
Why did the party have to pick Sapkota among all other leaders? There were two contenders from the same party—Shivamaya Tumbahangphe (who served as the deputy speaker until Monday) and former speaker of Constituent Assembly Subash Chandra Nembang. Many people had rooted for Tumbahangphe given her educational background and proven track record of handling the parliamentary affairs for around four months in absence of the speaker since Krishna Bahadur Mahara resigned from the post over the charge of rape attempt. The party did not care to heed the public call for electing her as the speaker. Making Tumbahangphe speaker would also do justice to the constitutional provision of having woman as either speaker or the deputy speaker of the House. Then there was Subash Chandra Nembang, with long experience of serving as the speaker of 600 plus size of Constituent Assembly and with the track record of playing a constructive role in constitution making process. Even if the post was to go to a leader from the erstwhile CPN (Maoist Center) within the NCP, there were other deserving candidates. The NCP instead opted for Sapkota.
Since the party commands majority in the House, Sapkota is almost sure to become the speaker but this is going to set the worst precedent in our parliamentary history. Probably for the first time, a murder accused will be chairing the parliamentary meetings in Nepal. Conflict victims have already raised an alarm over this decision. Civil society leaders and intellectuals have also voiced concerns. They have rightly claimed that the ruling party’s decision to field him for speaker is a serious disrespect of the Supreme Court since the case against him is sub judice in the constitutional bench of the court. As things stand, constitutional bench has been conducting the hearings and it will decide whether conflict-era cases can be tried in regular courts or transitional justice mechanisms: Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). But strangely ruling party leaders do not seem to have any sense of compunction for picking the tainted candidate for the prestigious post. The ruling party still has time to rethink the decision. The party should not sacrifice its commitment to rule of law and justice for bringing in an accused to the top post of the House. The decision to pick Sapkota as the speaker is wrong and it should be corrected. Or the ruling party should face the risk of being discredited on domestic as well as international fronts.