UML looks set for a showdown amid spending haltRuling alliance may steamroller the budget through lower house, but its passage from upper house looks difficult without a deal with main opposition.
The country is facing a government shutdown. All spending has been halted effective Wednesday midnight, as a replacement bill for the budget ordinance has failed to get through Parliament.
The next meeting has been scheduled for September 20. While the government appears firm on pushing the replacement bill, the main opposition CPN-UML, which has been obstructing the House proceedings, is bent on blocking it.
A showdown is likely, say leaders from both the ruling and the opposition parties.
“We will not let the House function unless the Speaker issues a notice regarding our party’s decision to expel 14 lawmakers,” said Bishal Bhattarai, chief whip of the CPN-UML. “This is our position.”
The UML is enraged by Speaker Agni Sapkota’s refusal to issue a notice as per the UML’s August 17 decision to expel 14 lawmakers, including Madhav Kumar Nepal. Ten days later, aided by an ordinance to ease party splits, the Nepal faction broke off with the UML and formed a new party—the CPN (Unified Socialist).
“We are not responsible for the current mess. It’s the Speaker,” said Bhattarai.
The UML believes Speaker Sapkota played a complicit role in splitting the party.
“Either he has to issue a notice as per our party’s decision or resign,” said Bhattarai. “That’s our precondition for allowing the House to function.”
The government, on September 10, presented the replacement bill in the lower house for the budget ordinance introduced by the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government. The ordinance was presented in the House by the Sher Bahadur Deuba government on July 18, hence a replacement bill needed to be passed by Wednesday. As per the existing provisions, an ordinance must be passed within 60 days from the the date of its tabling at the House.
There was a pandemonium in Parliament on September 10 when Finance Minister Janardan Sharma presented the replacement bill by revising the budget. Speaker Sapkota used marshals to let Sharma present the bill amid sloganeering by UML lawmakers.
Ruling party leaders say the government indeed is in an awkward situation, as there is a financial deadlock now and the replacement bill must be passed at the earliest.
“We are well aware of the tussle between the UML and the Speaker. Even if the UML continues obstructing the House, the replacement bill will be passed at the next meeting,” said Min Bishwakarma, a lawmaker from the ruling Nepali Congress party.
Since the government presented the replacement bill quite late, just a week before the 60-day deadline for the ordinance was to lapse, the only option to endorse it was by suspending some parliamentary rules and shortening the time for registering amendment proposals to a few hours from the required 72 hours.
Had the Speaker and the ruling parties opted for that, the bill could have been endorsed by Wednesday, precluding the government shutdown.
Shreedhar Neupane, a press adviser to Sapkota, however, said suspending the rules without the opposition’s consent would have been a harsh decision. The UML anyway did not seem to be in a mood to make peace with the Speaker, which was evident from its decision to boycott an all-party meeting called by him.
“The meeting was adjourned for a week to allow time for a dialogue with the UML. The Speaker believes the deadlock will end by the time the next meeting is held on Monday,” Neupane told the Post.
The government shutdown, however, won’t end until the replacement bill is passed also from the National Assembly.
While the lower house is presided over by Sapkota, who was elected to the post from the Maoist Centre, the upper house is chaired by Ganesh Timilsina, who was elected from the UML.
The way the UML sees Sapkota as someone working at the behest of his former party [CPN (Maoist Centre)], others believe Timilsina has his allegiance to the UML.
Unless the ruling alliance strikes a deal with the UML, the replacement bill’s passage through the upper house does not look easy. The main opposition has been obstructing the meetings of the upper house as well, and there are chances Timilsina might not help pass the bill without the UML’s consent.
“Even if the replacement bill is endorsed from the lower house by suspending the rules, it would be meaningless, as the National Assembly also needs to pass the bill,” said an official at the Parliament Secretariat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “A week’s gap before the next meeting also provides an opportunity for the parties to reach some kind of a deal.”
According to the official, the gap might have come also because of the petitions against Speaker Sapkota by the UML in the Supreme Court.
The UML has filed petitions against Sapkota for refusing to issue a notice as per its decision to expel the lawmakers. The party has also challenged the Election Commission’s move of recognising the lawmakers whom it had expelled.
A hearing on UML’s petitions was initially slated for Monday, but it was postponed by a week. Now the hearing is expected on the day the next House meeting has been called.
“The court is expected to issue some order on Monday, if the hearing takes place,” Baburam Dahal, spokesperson for the Supreme Court, told the Post. “It could be an interim order.”
The fate of Madhav Nepal’s CPN (Unified Socialist) largely depends upon the court order, as he is among the 14 lawmakers who the UML had expelled before he registered the party.
Unless the ruling party takes initiatives to effect a rapprochement with the UML, the replacement bill could remain stuck in the upper house even after it gets through the lower house, thereby prolonging the government shutdown.
That the main opposition has maintained a tough stance is evident from a statement by the party on Wednesday.
In the statement, the UML has blamed the government for creating a financial crisis in the country.
“The UML condemns the government’s indifferent and irresponsible attitude towards a sensitive issue like budget,” reads the statement. “We would like to draw the attention of the Speaker and the government to address the main opposition’s demands and resume the House proceedings.”
A lawmaker from the ruling coalition, however, said the UML has been raising an issue that has lost its significance, as the lawmakers against whom it had taken action have already formed a new party.
“Anyway, the issue the UML is raising to obstruct parliamentary proceedings is in court,” said Dev Gurung, chief whip of the CPN (Maoist Centre), a key partner in the Deuba government. “How can the Speaker intervene in a matter that is sub judice?”