Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides seems rather anxious about the possibility of the 2021 state budget not being voted through parliament. He has issued warnings to the parties considering voting against it on December 17, saying that such an act would not penalise the government, but society, working people and vulnerable groups that depended on state support because of the pandemic.
Diko has come under attack from government circles for its much-trumpeted decision to vote against the budget as a way of punishing the government for denying the auditor-general access to files on the citizenship by investment scheme. The party could not have acted more irrationally – it would vote against the budget for a reason that has nothing to do with the actual budget but because the government has not given in to the auditor-general’s demand. If the government gave in to him, Diko would consider the budget worthy of its full support.
Despite this irrational behaviour, the government cannot expect Diko to back the state budget every year – it is not in the government, is not part of an alliance and is, technically speaking, an opposition party, whose backing cannot be taken for granted. Akel has always voted against the Anastasiades’ government’s budget without ever being accused of being irresponsible, so why is Diko expected to act responsibly?
If anything, Akel acts even more impetuously, traditionally making amendments to the budget and then voting against it on the nebulous grounds that it embraced neo-liberalism and expenditure on development was too low.
The truth is that the government of the day always musters the necessary votes to get the budget approved; an opposition party could register disapproval by abstaining rather than voting against, thus allowing the ‘votes for’ to win. So far, by Petrides’ own admission, the annual budget has never been rejected by the legislature, apart from in 1963 when the Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the Republic.
It is unlikely it will be rejected this time either. Diko and Akel do not have a majority in the House (23 out of the 55). Disy, Solidarity and the three Diko defectors also account for 23 votes, so much will depend on the smaller parties that can swing the vote either way. Even in the event that the budget is rejected, for the first two months of the year the constitution envisages state spending be based on the 2020 budget. After February, the state would be paralysed but by then some of the smaller parties may be persuaded to vote for it.