Kathmandu: After the Speaker of the Lower House of the British Parliament (House of Commons) completes their term, it is customary to elect him/her as the Speaker of the Upper House (House of Lords). For this, the approval of the Head of State (King or Queen) is required in the Cabinet’s recommendation. The appointed Speaker (Lords) then serves for life as a Member of Parliament.
However, when Speaker John Bercow’s term ended in 2019, Boris Johnson’s government refused to recommend him for appointment. There were several reasons for this, but the customary process of electing the Speaker as a member of the Upper House in the UK continued after his term ended. The process, however, is likely to continue in the future. The opposition parties do not compete against the Speaker for members of the House of Commons. This demonstrates respect for the Speaker’s experience and contribution.
The immediate former Speaker of Nepal’s Parliament, Agni Prasad Sapkota, considers the British system as exemplary. “I really like that practice in Britain because the country gives the opportunity to the Speaker to develop knowledge and skills through investment,” he said during an interview with Nepal Live Today.
“If the same thing is implemented in Nepal, and former speakers are nominated in the Upper House, then the state can utilize their qualification and expertise. I like the practice in the UK, but is it relevant to follow the same practice in Nepal?” Sapkota, who spent three years as the Speaker, told Nepal Live Today.
Sapkota, after completing his term as the Speaker, is again active in the party politics. He serves as the Deputy Chairman of the CPN (Maoist Center).
The government does not have any mechanism to utilize the expertise of past Speakers. This is the main reason why Sapkota is back in the party politics. When asked why party politics again, Sapkota said, “I have gained expertise while being the Speaker. I wanted to utilize my expertise to guide my party,” he said.
Sapkota is not the only one, all of Nepal’s former speakers have returned to active party politics after leaving their positions.
Ram Chandra Poudel, who became speaker in 1994, also did the same. However, after leaving the speaker’s position, he became a minister, then competed for party leadership and prime minister. Even after leaving the speaker’s position, he continued to contest in elections regularly. Today, he is the president of the country.
Like Paudel, other former speakers have also returned to their respective parties and are competing in elections. Constitutional expert Radheshyam Adhikari is of the view that the political figures once elected as speakers of parliament should be dissociated from party politics thereafter. He cited the example from neighboring India. “Somnath Chatterjee contested the Lok Sabha elections nine times. But once he became the speaker, he renounced party affiliation. ‘I would rather leave the political affiliation. Once I become a speaker I have to maintain that role, Chatterjee told his party,” said Adhikari. “He played a neutral role.”
Chatterjee was affiliated with Communist Party of India (Marxist) before he became the speaker.
It makes sense for such figures not to return to active politics and contest elections again also because while serving as the speakers, they remain as important actors of the state. Once they return to the same political parties, their role comes to be confined within that party as a second or third ranking office bearer. When they also contest the elections, they become the subject of public criticism and scrutiny. Besides, victory is not certain for these former speakers.
So how can the political figures who once served in the respectable position of speakers be placed in equally respectable positions once their term as speaker comes to an end? How can their knowledge, experience and expertise be used for the cause of the country? How can the leaders who once gave up party politics to serve in the post of speakers be managed? Is there a way?
Agni Sapkota argues that there is. In his view, they can be made honorary members of the upper house. “If former speakers are accorded the status of honorary members of the National Assembly, it benefits the nation,” he said. “I gained the experience and expertise as the speaker from the taxpayers’ money. It would be appropriate to use the knowledge, skill, experience and expertise gained while working as the speaker in the National Assembly.”