Communists choose PM candidate, Maoists still dithering

July 20th, 2010 - 5:24 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 20 (IANS) Even as the deadline for taking part in Wednesday’s prime ministerial election drew closer, Nepal’s Maoists, who had been waging a year-long battle for the post, failed to name their candidate though the other two major parties had arrived at a conclusion.

The communists, despite disagreements among top leaders, Tuesday managed to paper over the differences and the decision-making central committee announced it would field party chief Jhalanath Khanal.

Putting past rivalries behind, caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Tuesday proposed Khanal’s name at the central committee meeting while it was endorsed by senior leader Bishnu Poudel.

However, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), has a condition.

It has proposed that Khanal’s nomination be withdrawn on the day of the election if last-minute parleys with other parties fail to win the support of two-thirds of the 601 lawmakers.

The other key member in the caretaker government, the Nepali Congress (NC), has been the first to effect a reconciliation among its warring leaders and has already announced that its parliamentary party chief Ram Chandra Poudel would be its candidate.

However, the Maoists, the largest party in parliament, remained vertically divided on the issue.

While one section of the party mooted supporting Khanal and taking part in a communist-led government, another one, led by former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai, is opposed to it.

The Maoists are expected to field either party supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda or Bhattarai. An emergency meeting of their politburo failed to iron out differences and the central committee began deliberations.

A fourth surprise candidate could be propelled by an alliance of four regional parties from the Terai plains.

Former NC leader Mahantha Thakur, who left the party to float the Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party, could be nominated by his party and its three allies, who together command over 80 seats.

The Maoists, who have 237 seats, need only 64 more to cross the halfway mark of 301 seats. However, their nine-month old government in the past, when they enjoyed simple majority in the house, showed up the fragility of such a government.

Since their ultimate goal is to draft a constitution in line with their thinking, they need to control two-thirds of the seats in order to push their proposals ahead.

While they have 10-odd seats from 10 fringe parties, for two-thirds majority there is no option but try to get the support of the UML or the Terai bloc, even if that means accepting a government headed by them.

An NC-led government will mean the Maoists sitting in opposition. Such a scenario is likely to resurrect the chaos that prevailed last year when the Maoists obstructed the government both in parliament and through street protests.

This is the third prime ministerial election in two years.

If Wednesday’s election fails to usher in a strong government, Nepal may once again fail to promulgate a new constitution by 2011.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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