Election and budget
Just as it is important for at least the three major political parties to agree on a two-phase election, as proposed by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, it is as important that the three see eye to eye on the timing of the new budget. The constitution has fixed Jestha 15 (May 29) as the Budget Day, which this year falls bang in the middle of the planned first and second phases of local election. One option is to amend the constitution to allow the budget to be presented after the conclusion of the second phase of election on June 14.The other option is for the government to present a bare-bone budget that ensures the continuity of day-to-day governance, and to present the full budget later. The third option is to present a full budget at the constitutionally-mandated date. The first option is easily the most practical and also likely to attract the least controversy. After the declaration of election date, the government cannot undertake any task that directly impacts the election. And a full-fledged budget, or even a watered-down version, is sure to have at least some impact in the voting pattern of the electorate.
It is for this reason the Election Commission has advised the government not to bring a budget before June 14. Interestingly, the commission has also clarified that it is not in a position to speak against the constitutional provision on Jestha 15 budget, which, theoretically, means that the government can still bring a budget on that date if it so wants. Prime Minister Dahal should resist from doing so. CPN-UML, the main opposition, has clearly said that it will oppose budget of any kind before June 14. Other parties that are not in the government have also threatened to block any pre-election budget. In this situation, there is no harm in delaying the budget by a fortnight on the principle of necessity. Timely budget is important, no doubt, particularly considering the lengthy budget cycle of Nepal. But free and fair election of local bodies, something that has not happened in nearly two decades, is even more important. In electoral democracies, those running the government have special responsibility to ensure clean election. This they do by adequately empowering the Election Commission to make all the important decisions on its behalf after the election has been announced.
But what we see is that the constituent parties of the current coalition government, primarily Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center), are constantly trying to undermine the independence of the commission. This was evident in their pressure on the commission to allow the government to transfer high-level police officials and CDOs on election eve. Apparently under the pressure of the ruling parties, the commission has also been rather harsh on smaller political parties, while giving the big parties a lot of leeway in preparing for local election. For greater legitimacy of local election, the government must desist from such coercive tactics. Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav could also be more assertive in resisting such pressure and in impartially imposing the election code of conduct. Otherwise, compromised local election, besides the obvious harm it will do to the nascent loktantra, will also forever taint Yadav’s legacy.