Nepal to hold fourth round of PM poll Thursday (Lead)

August 2nd, 2010 - 6:28 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 2 (IANS) Uncertain of being able to elect a new prime minister Monday in the third round of an unprecedented, protracted battle for power, Nepal’s major parties have agreed to hold a fourth round of election Thursday.

Alarmed by signs that parliament would fail to elect a successor to caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal more than a month after his resignation, the chairman of the house, Subhash Nembang, called an emergency meeting with the chief whips of the three major parties - the Maoists, Nepali Congress (NC) and communists - to decide on a fresh date for a fourth round of election.

As lawmakers readied to cast their vote to choose between Maoist supremo and former premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and former deputy prime minister and NC leader Ram Chandra Poudel, the fear of yet another fiasco grew stronger with the communists and nearly 10 minor parties saying they would abstain from voting.

Monday’s election also threatens to be delayed as a bloc of four ethnic parties from the Terai plains, who can help the Maoists return to power, failed to reach a last-minute deal with them and began yet another interminable meeting of its own alliance partners to plan its strategy.

The Maoists, who led a short-lived government for eight months, have an edge over the NC by virtue of being the largest party in parliament.

Prachanda needs to woo only about 70 votes from outside parties to attain a simple majority of 301 MPs.

The Maoists, once a banned underground party, won 237 seats in the election two years ago that saw them come to power for the first time. For Monday’s poll, they have been assured of the support of a minor communist party, the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party that has five MPs.

The NC, once Nepal’s largest party but humbled in 2008 election, has only 114 seats of its own and is facing a tough struggle to form a government.

Two earlier rounds of the election turned into a stalemate after the caretaker PM’s party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), turned vengeful following an aborted attempt to take part in it. Enmity within the party and bitter rivalry with the Maoists and NC has made the UML now sit on the fence, refusing to vote for either side.

The UML has 109 votes and while its support can make the Maoists sail through Monday’s election, the NC will still fall short of simple majority and needs to woo more parties.

The Terai parties together command over 80 votes and if they back the Maoists in Monday’s election, Prachanda will be able to make a triumphant comeback. But if they support the NC, the stalemate will continue unless the NC can win the communists over as well.

The Terai parties are trying to extract their pound of flesh, demanding a single autonomous Terai state in southern Nepal and a quota for Terai people in the army. Both the Maoists and NC have rejected these pre-conditions.

The Maoists, despite the past failure to win simple majority, claimed Prachanda was likely to garner majority in Monday’s poll.

“We are optimistic the country will get a new prime minister Monday,” Maoist MP and deputy chief Narayan Kaji Prakash said. “We have already been assured of over 301 votes.”

But despite the boast, the party leadership remained worried. Another senior leader, Chandra Prakash Gajurel, said a new option would have to be explored if the deadlock was not resolved Monday.

As per the constitution, the two contestants will have to keep slugging it out endlessly till one of them manages to attain majority. However, the delay could cost Nepal its new constitution.

The restive republic failed to get a new constitution in May due to the infighting among the parties and now, the extended deadline of May 2011 also lies in peril.

A tabloid Monday came down heavily on the warring parties, warning them that Nepal’s parliament and the prime ministerial election had become a farce in the eye of Nepalis as well as the international community.

“If parliament can’t even give the nation a prime minister, each of the (599) MPs should declare that they have become redundant,” the Naya Patrika daily said in a scathing front-page editorial.

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

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