Nepal parties start wooing minnows for fresh presidential poll

July 20th, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 20 (IANS) Nepal’s ruling parties Sunday began wooing the winnows after the nation’s first presidential election to choose deposed king Gyanendra’s successor as the new head of state ended in a fiasco with none of the three contenders able to pull off the simple majority required for victory. Now the stage is set for a new two-way fight Monday when Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) party will cross swords again with the Maoists for the top job.

The first historic presidential election in the new republic of Nepal ended inconclusively Saturday night after the NC’s last-minute candidate Ram Baran Yadav edged past former revolutionary and Maoist-backed contender Ram Raja Prasad Singh in the fiercely contested poll but fell short of the required 298 votes.

Yadav, a former minister and current general secretary of his party, polled 283 votes though he was also backed by two other big parties, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and the powerful bloc of three ethnic parties from the Terai plains.

With the NC holding 113 seats in the caretaker parliament, the UML 108 and the Terai parties 82, Yadav was expected to pull off an unexpected victory over the Maoists.

However, probable cross-voting and a sizeable number of votes being invalidated, there was no victor and a run-off was announced between the two top contenders Monday.

Singh polled 270 votes, indicating he had the full support of the Maoists, who are the largest party in the house with 226 seats, and other lawmakers as well.

“We would have won if 24 votes had not been declared invalid,” Maoist legislator Janardan Sharma, also known as Prabhakar, told IANS.

The third contender, UML nominee Ram Preet Paswan, was eliminated from Monday’s contest after his party reached a last-minute poll understanding with Koirala and the Terai parties to support Yadav.

On Monday, the UML and Terai trio have pledged to vote for Yadav, who needs 15 votes more.

But unwilling to bank on the alliance alone, Koirala Sunday met Keshav Mainali, the chief of a fringe party with one representative in the house, to chip away at the difference.

The UML is also scheduled to hold talks with the other minor communist parties, some of whom boycotted Saturday’s election.

Though Saturday’s presidential poll threw up no winner, it spelled defeat for the Maoists, whose poll strategy proved to be short-sighted.

The former guerrillas alienated their ruling partners NC and UML by refusing to accept either Koirala or a UML heavyweight, Madhav Kumar Nepal, as president.

Instead, they chose to bury their old rivalry with the Terai parties and woo the bloc’s support. However, the Terai bloc ditched the former guerrillas at the 11th hour and decided to stand behind Koirala and the UML.

There was growing public criticism of the Maoists for pushing the 73-year-old, visibly infirm Singh and going back on their earlier pledge to support the UML.

An SMS survey conducted by Nepal’s biggest private television station Kantipur Saturday night showed 51 percent of the respondents saying the Maoists deserved the poll setback.

The discord over the presidential election is an evil omen for the new government, which will be formed after the election.

With the Maoists readying to lead the next government, both the NC and UML have said they would stay away, signifying an end to the politics of consensus that succeeded in overthrowing King Gyanendra’s authoritarian regime two years ago and ended the 10-year Maoist insurgency.

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