It is becoming apparent that the longer the current state of impasse continues, the more liable President Ram Baran Yadav will be to intervene. On Monday morning, he informed the heads of major parties that they have until coming Thursday to settle issues related to new election, consensus government and full budget. The million-dollar question is: What happens if there is no agreement by Nov 22? Will the President step in? There have been reports that the President could go to the extent of dismissing the current caretaker government for its failure to hold the announced Nov 22 election, in the vein of King Gyanendra who sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in 2002 following the latter’s inability to hold elections. That would be a very unfortunate development.
We have all along advocated for a complete budget, which is vital to give the country’s moribund economy a much-needed boost. We believe that bringing a complete budget through broad political understanding would still be the best way forward. But given the developments in the last few days, whereby the opposition parties have ruled out any chance of Bhattarai government introducing a budget, that possibility appears remote. Of the two remaining options on the table—another quarterly budget or a budget that will give continuity to the policies and programs endorsed by the erstwhile parliament under Jhalanath Khanal—the latter looks like a far better pick. Another quarterly budget will simply add to the mounting economic uncertainties. Revival of the old budget would at least prevent a complete stagnation of the economy. We believe if there can be no consensus on a complete budget, or on bigger political and constitutional issues, all the parties would do well to agree on this middle course. But at the moment even that looks unlikely.
PM Bhattarai seems to be in no mood to make any concession. Speaking on Monday, hours after the President had issued the Nov 22 ultimatum, Bhattarai denied that President Yadav had fixed any such date for consensus. This cavalier attitude is unwarranted. The best way to clear the political and constitutional impasse, as well as to end the uncertainties on budget, remains his vacating of the PMO, clearing the way for a consensus government. Bhattarai and the Maoists would be advised to understand the gravity of the situation and to be ready for concessions that would put them in good stead in negotiations on the larger political questions. But as far as the budget is concerned, the opposition parties too should not try to corner the government by insisting on PM’s ouster.
As things stand, they are dead against the promulgation of a quarterly budget or one without new programs. We urge both the opposition and ruling parties not to hold the country hostage to their indecision. The simple fact is that no country can operate without a budget. It would also be foolish to risk all achievements of the last six years on a budget. The best way forward, and one that will allow each of the two sides to save face, would be a budget with no new programs. Given the difficult situation the President finds himself in, it would be foolish of either side to call his bluff at this crucial juncture.