November 13, 2012
The caretaker government's authority to draw from the Treasury will lapse this Thursday, November 15, which means it will be unable to pay the salaries of 500,000 soldiers, police, teachers and other civil servants. The situation became grimmer on Monday when Nepal’s Maoist-led government postponed a budget announcement after the government and opposition failed to reach agreement.
A request by President Ram Baran Yadav that the government only present the budget if it enjoyed consensus from all parties was blamed for the delay. A cabinet meeting on the budget was also delayed.
“The government will present the budget ordinance to the president on November 16,” said Narayan Shrestha, the Prime Minister Bhattarai’s personal secretary in an interview with The Hindu, who noted more time was needed to reach inter—party consensus.
The problem is that the opposition maintains that the caretaker government lacks proper authority and has vowed to block any such move.
“On what principles can you have a budget when there is no parliament?” said Surendra Pandey, former finance minister and an opposition leader.
In an article published Monday by Reuters, writers Gopal Sharma and John Chalmers assert that the underlying problem is that, since the Maoists handed over their guns at the end of a decade-long insurrection in 2006, Nepal's Maoists have done no better at running the Himalayan republic than their political mainstream predecessors. Nor are the Maoists any less corrupt than their predecessors:
For some, the political limbo in Kathmandu has become so familiar it hardly amounts to a crisis.
"There is no parliament, no budget and no constitution, and yet the country moves on," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times. "All the parties are so corrupt and so feckless that not having a government is actually beneficial because there is no one to make all those mistakes."
However, the Maoists' rivals are running out of patience.
Bhattarai's predecessor, Jhala Nath Khanal of the anachronistically named Unified Marxist-Leninist communist party, says that unless Bhattarai steps down and forms a "unity" government his group will continue to block the passage of a new budget and may call for a popular uprising to topple him.
Thousands of protesters shouting "You can't impose totalitarianism!" and "Set up a consensus government!" marched through the streets of temple-studded Kathmandu last Friday, cranking up pressure on Bhattarai to quit.
But the Maoist leader remained serene and defiant.
"I am the only legal prime minister," Bhattarai said. "They are not ready to face the next elections, they fear they will be routed in the elections - that's why they want the leadership of the government," he said of opposition parties.
He said that if the opposition continued to block the budget, he would seek a presidential decree to push it through.
However, Bhattarai conceded that President Ram Baran Yadav - who is supposed to stand above the political fray, but is a member of the centrist Nepali Congress Party - was hardly an ally, and indeed there have been rumours that the president may try to end the crisis by grabbing executive power himself.
According to Agence France Presse:
"The incomplete financial plan has greatly affected the economy," said political analyst Chandrashekhar Nepali in a commentary for the Kathmandu Post.
"Development projects and capital expenditure are lower, public sector employees are worried about not getting paid (and) the security forces have raised concern over lack of funds to replenish their stock.
"Local authorities are not getting enough money to maintain basic public services, development partners are unable to disburse the money that has been pledged and the private sector is losing confidence."
In the past four months, the government has allocated just four billion rupees to development projects, a tenth of its normal spend.
Is there an army-assisted presidential coup in the offing?
According to Prashant Jha for The Hindu, highly placed sources have said that Dr. Yadav has contemplated drastic action,
…including dismissing Dr. Bhattarai and appointing a new PM for Nepal after November 22, the date on which the government had originally proposed to hold fresh Constituent Assembly (CA) polls.
However, the Nepal Army (NA) is understood to have conveyed its view that the “political process” should be allowed to take its own course. Officially, the President’s advisors reject any possibility of a “presidential coup”, and say he is merely trying to “put pressure” on parties to come to an agreement.
…But the Nepal Army (NA) has advised caution. Still recovering from the civil war, the NA does not seem to be in any mood to interfere in the political process. Except on matters where it has a direct stake, the NA has stayed away from politics and did not intervene even when the monarchy, its traditional patron, was abolished.
The new chief, General Gaurav Shumsher Rana, has publicly pledged to abide by the constitution and the Army Act, which clearly stipulates specific conditions under which forces can be mobilised. He believes that the political process should take its own course. The army’s position, constitutionally correct and politically prudent, will be a key factor in the President’s decision, and could deter any adventurist move.