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Nepal braces for more battle over budget

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : With the major opposition party as well as 10 others threatening to oppose a new budget, Nepal’s three-month-old government faces a tough battle in parliament three days hence.

The Maoists, the dominant party in the two-member ruling coalition, are liable to get a dose of their own medicine with the Nepali Congress (NC), Terai parties from the south, and other fringe parties uniting to prevent Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari from getting the budget for 2011-12 passed in parliament.

On Thursday, the 11 parties submitted a joint memorandum to both Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and parliament chairman Subash Chandra Nembang, apprising them of their intention to oppose the new budget.

This month, the Khanal government, under tremendous criticism for “having failed on all fronts”, announced its intention to start the budget session from May 2 with the new budget to be tabled for discussions the next day.

The Nepali Congress was the first to oppose the move, saying it would not allow the government to table a new budget before May 28, a crucial date.

As per the interim constitution, the new constitution has to be enforced by May 28. However, the indications are that the government will fail to meet the deadline, barring a last-minute miracle.

Though Khanal met Nepali Congress chief Sushil Koirala Thursday to lobby for support, Koirala rejected the overture.

It is a moment of just desserts for the Maoists who prevented the earlier government of prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal from passing the budget in November. Sitting in opposition at that time, they had attacked the then Finance Minister Surendra Pandey in parliament, forcing the government to enforce the budget by ordinance.

The current finance minister already carries on his shoulder the heavy burden of a bureaucratic dispute.

Finance secretary Rameshwor Khanal resigned recently after tussles with the finance minister, who has been accused of drafting the new budget in consultation with a few corporate houses and seeking to shelter businessmen under investigation for tax evasion.

The premier himself is accused of having abandoned the Nepali Congress, an old ally, and striking an opportunistic deal with the Maoists to win the prime ministerial election.

Due to the bad blood created since then, no party other than the Maoists joined the Khanal government and even the Maoists have been dragging their feet about sending ministers, causing the cabinet to be still incomplete.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])