PM election gives Nepal sleepless nights

August 3rd, 2010 - 1:22 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 3 (IANS) Three unsuccessful bids by Nepal’s parliament to elect a new premier more than a month after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned is giving the nation sleepless nights - literally.

As the 599 lawmakers hold a fourth round of election Friday, Nepalis are getting resigned to further sleep deprivation, thanks to the major parties’ utter disregard for the clock and the failure of parliament chairman Subhas Nembang to impose any order.

On Monday, the election, scheduled for 4 p.m., started nearly five hours later. When neither of the two contenders, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, were able to garner the simple majority needed for victory, Nembang said the house would take a half-hour break before announcing the date for the next run-off.

However, it was at 11.45 p.m. that the house sat again, to the chagrin of parliament staff, journalists covering the elections and women lawmakers with young children.

During the two earlier rounds of failed elections too, lawmakers showed the same tardiness, beginning poll proceedings five to six hours behind the scheduled time and holding the entire nation hostage.

The prime ministerial elections, now the butt of jokes in Nepal, revive memories of parliament’s failure to promulgate a new constitution by May and plunging the country into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

Though a simple amendment of the constitution would have averted the disaster, Nepal’s bickering parties continued squabbling till the deadline, finally agreeing to extend the constitutional deadline when it was well after midnight.

There is little hope that Friday’s election, scheduled to start at 3 p.m., will do so. There is also greater fear that lawmakers will yet again fail to pick a new prime minister.

Though Prachanda has an edge over his rival with the Maoists being the largest party in parliament, he still needs the support of another major party to cross the halfway mark of 300 votes.

Poudel, whose party has just 114 MPs compared to the Maoists’ 237, needs the support of at least two major parties.

Monday’s election showed the Maoists making some inroads on a powerful bloc of four regional parties, whose 82 MPs can help them return to power.

Though the bloc had said it would abstain from voting, nearly a dozen of its MPs crossed the floor to support Prachanda, taking his vote tally to 259.

With the bloc saying they were closer to an agreement with the Maoists, Prachanda could return as the prime minister of Nepal Friday if he gets the entire bloc to support him or weans away more MPs.

However, such an alliance would be fraught with danger.

The communists and the Terai parties have proved to be the most unreliable allies in Nepal’s politics, abandoning old friends in a bid to grab power.

The new government, if it does not have the support of at least one more major party, is liable to come a cropper like the coalition government of Nepal that was blocked at every turn by the Maoists and ultimately forced to resign.

In the race for the prime minister’s post, the republic has already lost two valuable months and is left with just 10 in which to promulgate the new constitution.

If the parties don’t reform, it will fail the May 2011 deadline as well, triggering yet another unprecedented constitutional crisis.

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

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