Nepal PM race fiasco again as MPs snub leaders

July 23rd, 2010 - 6:24 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 23 (IANS) In an unprecedented turn of events, even in Nepal’s unpredictable politics, Friday’s election to choose a new prime minister after a failed attempt 48 hours earlier headed for a fiasco again with MPs refusing to back the contenders in a continuing snub.

It was a stinging rebuff to Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal Prachanda, whose attempt to lead the government again met with repeated rejections with two of the four biggest parties declaring they would abstain from voting.

The 55-year-old former revolutionary, who had won the same election by overwhelming majority two years ago, failed to woo over the communists and the ethnic bloc of Terai parties despite frantic parleys after a similar snub Wednesday.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the third largest party in the house after the Maoists and the Nepali Congress, Friday reiterated its stand that its 109 MPs would abstain from voting till the contenders succeeded in getting the support of most of the parties.

On Wednesday, the communists had withdrawn their candidate and abstained from voting after a last-minute poll alliance with the Maoists fell through.

The Terai bloc of four parties from the southern plains, who have 82 MPs in the house, held an emergency meeting ahead of the election Friday to come up with an agenda. It includes the formation of a separate autonomous state in the plains with the right to self-determination, and the inclusion of plains people in the army.

The four parties said they will vote for the party that will support its demands. However, they said they will abstain from voting Friday.

With nearly 200 of 599 MPs refusing to vote, now there is no possibility of Prachanda or his rival, former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, acquiring even 301 votes to garner simple majority and the run-off became a fiasco even before it started.

The impasse underscored the waning of the influence of the Nepali Congress after the death of Girija Prasad Koirala, the iron man of Nepal’s politics who had the personality to unite differing parties during an emergency.

The NC’s prime ministerial candidate Poudel has no hope of winning the race unless the UML and Terai bloc participate in the polls since his party has only 114 MPs and can count on the support of just two minor parties with a total of 10 votes.

Now the election is headed for yet another run-off.

While the Maoists have asked the chairman of parliament to hold the next polls in a couple of days, the NC wants it deferred for almost a fortnight.

The UML, on the other hand, has been urging the two rivals to withdraw and a new poll be announced with fresh candidates.

Friday’s fiasco further tarnishes the image of Nepal’s three top parties which have been lambasted by MPs, the media and civil society as self-seeking, treacherous and corrupt.

The NC comes off comparatively better, having been the first to patch up internal rivalries and adhering to one consistent stand.

However, the communists and the Maoists have cut a sorry figure, showing themselves as unprincipled opportunists.

Prachanda, who was regarded as a charismatic visionary who led a successful revolution, has the most to lose, appearing as a dog in the manger who preferred to split other parties and support rivals rather than allow a new leadership from his own party.

The protracted impasse has begun to cause concern even outside Nepal.

The British ambassador to Nepal, Sir Andrew Hall, met Poudel Friday to convey concern at the delay in electing a new PM, saying it would affect the peace process and the drafting of the new constitution, which has to be promulgated by May 2011.

Britain is a member of the European Union and its concerns are shared by the other member countries.

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

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