The ruling and opposition forces seem to be in a battle mood ahead of the mid-November budget deadline. The ruling alliance has time and again made it clear that without a comprehensive agreement on outstanding political and constitutional issues, there is no immediate possibility of its replacement. The opposition parties are in an equally combative mood. On Saturday, 15 opposition parties, including NC and CPN-UML, announced new programs to unseat the government and pave the way for consensus government, which would unveil the budget and hold election by mid-April. The opposition forces have warned that if the government continues on its obstructionist path, the just-announced ‘warm up’ programs would be followed by a ‘full-fledged’ push.
A look at the protest programs suggests the opposition parties will first try to establish support among the intelligentsia and the business community before they push ahead with harsher protests. This is an indication that the opposition forces are unsure of their current strength and the level of public support they enjoy. Thus the direction of the protests will depend upon the kinds of suggestions they get from civil society actors and the business community. Their plan of extensively interacting with these crucial stakeholders appears wise, for, without their consent, it is hard to see anti-government protests gaining momentum. The opposition has clearly not forgotten the crucial role played by these communities for the success of the 2006 movement. But opposition block must also have realized that times are vastly different.
The civil society is divided on the way forward. The business community, likewise, wants a full-budget through political consensus. But even if such consensus is not forthcoming, it will still push for a complete budget. This puts it firmly in the camp of the ruling coalition. The broader public, similarly, is divided on how they see the current government. Although many believe the Bhattarai government has failed to live up to its expectations and has run out of its mandate, they are not sure about the alternatives. But one thing is for sure: the longer the Bhattarai government continues in office without progress on the larger political process, the more people’s disenchantment with the ruling coalition will grow. We still believe that rather than endlessly prolonging the transition and risking their credibility, the Maoists would be wise to withdraw from government right away. It is also hard to see any other way out of the current crisis.
That said, the opposition forces would do themselves a world of good to realize that in addition to the ruling parties, people hold them equally accountable for the protracted stalemate. Too many times it has appeared as if NC and UML are motivated by no bigger goal than to unseat Bhattarai and put in place a coalition more favorable to their electoral success. Both the ruling and opposition parties ought to realize that unless they agree to work together for the larger national interest, a breakthrough is unlikely. Some kind of understanding is a must, since it is not just one or the other party that will be harmed by a painfully prolonged transition. The whole political class risks being discredited