Nepal fails to elect new PM - yet again (Lead)

October 26th, 2010 - 6:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Oct 26 (IANS) Amid deepening public gloom, Nepal’s warring parties Tuesday failed to elect a new prime minister even after an unprecedented 13th round of election.

Parliamentarians will now hold a 14th round of vote Friday, which too is likely to be futile.

Though expected to use a festival break of more than a fortnight to reach an understanding, the top three parties failed to hammer out an agreement with several leaders remaining on junkets abroad and failing to turn up to cast their vote.

The 601-seat parliament presented a sorrier spectacle than the city’s deserted cinemas with only 144 lawmakers turning up for an exercise that has become the butt of public ridicule and anger.

Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who had claimed his party to be the only one with people’s interests at heart, remained conspicuous by his absence, being away on a controversial trip to China.

Another prominent Maoist MP, Barshaman Pun Ananta, who had recently returned from a trip to China, was out of the country again on a junket to Switzerland.

Besides the Maoists, who stayed neutral, so did the communists, the third largest party, as well as regional parties from the Terai plains.

The only contender, Ram Chandra Poudel of the centrist Nepali Congress party, failed to win a simple majority, getting only 98 votes. While two MPs voted against him, 44 remained neutral.

Nepal’s unique election procedure dictates that the race has to be continued even though there is just one contestant till he manages to get 300 votes or withdraws from the race.

When the election first started in July following Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s resignation under Maoist pressure in June, the Maoists and the communists had their hats in the ring as well.

However, the communists withdrew their chief after a squabble in the party while Prachanda exited after the seventh round after a vote-buying scandal effectively ended his chances.

Now though the Maoists and communists are pressing Poudel to withdraw so that a new election can be started, the Nepali Congress has been refusing to do so for fear of an opportunistic alliance between the two left parties that could see them grab power.

Poudel says he will withdraw only after the Maoists agree to disband their nearly 20,000-strong guerrilla army and reach an agreement on power-sharing.

As the quarrel between the Maoists and the Nepali Congress intensifies, the former rebels have threatened to derail the new budget, saying a caretaker government has no right to table one.

Though the new financial year is in its fourth month, the absence of a new budget means the caretaker government is edging towards a dire financial crisis with no money in the state coffers.

The nascent republic is also running out of time. The feud makes it doubtful if it would be able to complete a new constitution by mid-May.

A key step towards that is the disbanding of the Maoist army, which should be completed by mid-January.

However, that too is highly uncertain with the Maoists now demanding that the statute be drafted first.

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

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