Nepal PM poll to see four-cornered fight Thursday (Lead)

February 2nd, 2011 - 5:49 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Feb 2 (IANS) In a surprise twist to Nepal’s deadlocked prime minister election saga, a bloc of regional parties from the Terai plains decided to join the fray Thursday, making the 17th round of prime minister’s election a four-cornered battle.Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, who is also the physical planning and works minister, strode into parliament Wednesday minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline for filing nominations ended, staking his claim to the top executive post that has been lying vacant since July.

Gachhedar said he will be fighting Thursday’s election as the representative of four Terai or Madhesi parties, who together account for 82 MPs in the 601-member house.

“I am sure we will make headway with the support of the smaller parties,” Gachhedar said after filing his nomination.

The surprise move came after the Madhesi parties held an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide their strategy. The bloc had been in the past wooed by the three major parties in the fray but decided to stay neutral after a leaked audio tape showed up the Maoists as trying to buy the votes of Madhesi MPs.

Except for the first Madhesi contender, the other contestants remain the same as last year’s.

Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda rode roughshod over the murmured dissent in his own party to stake his claim once again, ignoring last year’s debacle when the horse-trading scandal forced him to exit from the race after seven fruitless rounds.

The ruling communists, despite a feud within themselves, Wednesday formally proposed the name of party chief Jhalanath Khanal as their candidate.

Khanal had to throw in the towel soon after the elections started last year due to the infighting in his own party but took revenge by ordering his MPs to abstain from voting in the subsequent rounds.

He was recently slapped in public by a protestor who blamed politicians like him for the protracted crisis that threatens to derail the new constitution and peace process.

The fourth contestant is former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, who fought 16 rounds of election last year from the Nepali Congress party without being able to win majority support.

Though Poudel’s nomination this time was opposed by another leader from his own party, former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, the latter’s bid was nipped by party chief Sushil Koirala.

The emergence of a fourth contestant indicates Thursday’s vote - the 17th
in seven months - is also likely to be fruitless once more.

In that case, parliament will hold two more rounds of vote on Saturday and Sunday.

If the weekend races fail as well, the nominations will be automatically cancelled and fresh nominations will begin.

Nepal has been under a caretaker government since Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in June.

The protracted crisis has prevented the parties from coming up with a plan for the rehabilitation of nearly 20,000 Maoist soldiers though the troops were formally handed over to the state Jan 22.

As long as the guerrilla cantonments remain, there is fear that Nepal will not be able to promulgate a new constitution within the deadline - May 28, 2011.

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