EDITORIAL: Sapkota’s challenges

The ruling party should have reconsidered Sapkota’s candidacy as Speaker given his murky past and that his case is sub-judice in court 

As the main opposition Nepali Congress did not field its candidacy for the post of Speaker, Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Agni Prasad Sapkota was elected unopposed Speaker of the House of Representatives on Sunday. He also took the oath of office and secrecy from President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on Monday, even as members of the civil society and rights activists protested against his election to the post in front of the presidential office, Sital Niwas. Over a dozen rights activists were briefly detained when he was taking the oath of office and secrecy. With Sapkota’s election as the Speaker, the four-month-long uncertainty is now over, but the days ahead are challenging for him and his party that decided to field his candidature for the post, which demands independence and impartiality in running the House. The post had remained vacant since October 1 last year after then Speaker KB Mahara put in his papers on charges of attempt to rape a female employee at the Parliament Secretariat. Sapkota, who is a close confidante of NCP chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was chosen as the candidate for the post despite strong reservations by another NCP chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli over his nomination.

The NCP leadership, which is never tired of talking about promoting women in leadership positions, had forced Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe to step down so that Sapkota could be elected to the post. She might have been the right choice to lead the House given her long political and academic career. She, however, was made a scapegoat of the crime committed by someone else. Without her resignation, it was not constitutionally possible to elect Sapokota as the House speaker. Shortly after her resignation as deputy speaker, she rightly summed up the party’s mindset: “Patriarchy is stronger (in the party) than monarchy”.

Now, we have a speaker who has been elected unopposed. But it cannot make up for everything that has gone wrong. Sapkota has a tainted history for crimes committed during the decade-long armed conflict. A case is sub-judice in the Supreme Court on charges of his alleged involvement in abducting and killing Arjun Lama of Kavre in 2005. What if he is found guilty of killing Lama? International rights bodies have also expressed serious concerns over his election to the post, fearing that the conflict victims would not get justice because of his presence in the constitutional council that makes appointments in the state organs as an ex-officio member. Although the main opposition raised concerns that he might not play an impartial role in the House and bring all the parties together on national issues given his murky past, just like what Mahara did during his tenure, the NC committed a blunder by giving in to the wishes of the ruling party. The opposition’s role looks very feeble in this case. The ruling party should also have reconsidered Sapkota’s candidacy considering all these bare facts and the clamour by the rights activists. However, time will tell whether he will run the House without showing bias against the opposition or without being under the shadow of the executive that always wants the Speaker to dance to its tune.

Don’t take blast lightly

The government cannot take the blast carried out at the project site of the Arun III Hydropower Project on Saturday lightly. The pressure cooker bomb that was detonated by an unidentified group has damaged the generator of the 900-MW power project that is under construction in Sankhuwasabha. This is not the first time such bomb attacks have taken place against projects with foreign investment, and they are happening far too often, making investors jittery. The bomb attacks are taking place under one pretext or the other; however, the ultimate aim is extortion.

Nepal has held a series of investment summits in recent years to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). And the least the government can do to show its seriousness in attracting FDI is to provide security to the projects that have foreign equity. Doing business in Nepal is difficult largely because of the cumbersome process in starting a venture and thereafter having to deal with groups, often politically tainted, in the countryside that are hostile to projects approved by the centre or the provinces. There is no way other than to deal harshly with such groups that pose obstacles to projects, if the country wants to attract FDI.