‘I will have 100 per cent claim on the post of speaker’

Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe says she will have 100 per cent claim on the post of speaker when the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lays claim to the post. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times spoke to her about the election for speaker and her ambition to become the new speaker. Excerpts:

Are you going to field your candidacy for speaker of the House of Representatives?

I think I have natural claim to the post of speaker as I have gained necessary experience for the post that fell vacant after Krishna Bahadur Mahara resigned from the post. I will have 100 per cent claim on the post of speaker when the process to elect a new speaker begins in the House of Representatives.

I have carried out my duty as de facto speaker since Mahara resigned from the post. Although all members of the House of Representatives, whether they are elected through the first-past-the-post electoral system or proportional representation system, can field their candidacy for the post of speaker, a lawmaker’s mere ambition will not secure victory.

As I have served as deputy speaker, it is natural for me to wish to be promoted to the post of speaker. Many people have spoken in support of my elevation to the post of speaker. I am also a woman candidate and that should be taken into account. Deputy speaker was promoted to the post of speaker in our parliamentary history and I think the same precedent should apply this time.

Has there been any discussion on the issue of who should be the next speaker?

I do not know what the ruling party is discussing on the issue. I only know what I should tell the party.

Have you been consulted by any ruling party leader on the issue?

Nobody has asked me anything about the issue.

If you file your candidacy for the post of speaker, how do you plan to proceed?

Currently, I have been working as per Article 71 of the constitution. If the party fields me as a candidate for the post of speaker, I will resign from the post of deputy speaker. That is one condition.

I think the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) which fielded my candidacy for the post of deputy speaker in the past will lay claim to the post of speaker and when it does so, I will resign from the post of deputy speaker. As far as candidacy for the post of speaker is concerned, when there is a debate on who should be the party’s candidate for the job, I will give my arguments as to why I am fit for the job. I will resign from the post of deputy speaker when the process of electing the speaker moves ahead. Now it is up to the ruling party whether or not to field me as a candidate for speaker, but if the ruling party does not do so, I will put forth my arguments. I am waiting to see what the ruling party says about it. I hope that the ruling party will call me to discuss the issue.

What happens if the ruling party decides not to claim the post of speaker?

In that case, I will continue my job as deputy speaker. But as far as our parliamentary practices are concerned, I think the ruling party will claim the post of speaker.

Deputy parliamentary party leader of NCP Subas Chandra Nembang said you would resign from the post of deputy speaker. How do you view his statement?

His statement is consistent with the constitutional provision and what I have been saying is also consistent with the constitutional provision. As per the constitutional provision, both posts of speaker and deputy speaker cannot be held by one party. It must go to two different parties. Although it is not mentioned that the post of speaker and deputy speaker should be held by two different genders, it is a valid question now for the lawmakers to consider.

Top leaders of the ruling NCP have their own favourite candidates for speaker. What will you do if you are not chosen by them for speaker?

I will first talk to the ruling party and then answer your question. I do not think that I will be deprived of an opportunity of becoming the new speaker. I have seen some media reports that wrote negative things about my candidacy for speaker, but they did not seek my comments on the issue. I have no grudges against those mediapersons who wrote against me because I think both negative and positive reports will create a debate which will help choose the right person for the post of speaker.

There were some reports in the media that on the first day the seniormost member of the HoR would chair the meeting, but they wrote without seeing the constitutional provisions. I knew that in the absence of the speaker, I had the power to chair the meeting of the HoR as I am currently serving as the deputy speaker. Some people also said that I could chair the HoR Business Advisory Committee meeting, but I did that. Everybody should abide by the constitutional provision. House rules stipulate that the first meeting of the House and the last meeting of the House shall be chaired by the speaker but when there is no speaker, why can the deputy speaker not do the job of speaker?

When I told some leaders that the Business Advisory Committee meeting should be held, some leaders argued that I could not chair the BAC as I was not the speaker. I told them that the constitution said that I could chair the meeting of the House in the absence of the speaker then why I couldn’t chair the meeting of the BAC and eventually my arguments prevailed and I chaired the BAC meeting. The constitution should be implemented. No law or rules can override the constitution. Rules stipulate that the first and last meeting of the House shall be chaired by the speaker. I did not like that provision of the rule but kept quiet when the rules were being framed because I wanted to see how the level of awareness in our men and women had increased. Former speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara had said this provision should be changed. As I set the precedent by chairing the first meeting of the House, I think the House rules will now be changed to allow the deputy speaker to conduct the first and last meeting of the House. Any law that contradicts the constitution should be amended.

What will happen if your candidacy for the post of speaker is not ensured by the ruling party?

The ruling party has not consulted me on the issue yet and I hope the leaders will do so when the issue comes up.

Do you have doubt that the ruling party will not give you a chance to contest election for the post of speaker?

No, not at all. I have gained enough experience for the post of speaker. One needs to meet the eligibility, skills and have enough experience for carrying out the functions of the speaker and I think I will meet all the criteria for the post.

I am sure that the ruling party will take the post of speaker and I am prepared to resign from the post of deputy speaker, but I do not know when I will resign from my post. I have to pave the way for election of speaker, but I will not resign just because somebody tells me to do so. I read in the newspapers that some people want me to resign but I will not resign just because they want me to.

Why was the House meeting postponed for a week?

Generally the second meeting of the House during the new session of the Parliament is called after a gap of three to four days. This time, the second meeting of the House was called after a week also because we kept in mind the approaching Christmas festival. We respect the festivals of all faiths and castes.

As deputy speaker you may have limited role to play in the House, but do you think you can still play a role to promote women’s rights within the House?

As deputy speaker I can only facilitate the process and issues are debated after the government brings bills for consideration, but outside the House, I have always tried to do my best to promote women’s rights. Initially, I felt that the media was too male-centric when it came to covering the Parliament. Mediapersons mainly covered the voices of male lawmakers and they ignored the voices of women lawmakers. I took the initiative to hold interactions between mediapersons and women lawmakers. After those interactions, the media began to give space to women lawmakers as well and when I say this I also have a message for women lawmakers that they should also present their arguments in such a way that the media find a reason to cover them.