Prachanda throws his hat in Nepal ring

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

KATHMANDU - Once again displaying an uncanny knack to keep his grip over his party intact amid dissent, Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda Tuesday threw his hat into the ring, ready to fight for the prime minister’s post a second time.

Instead of letting his deputy Baburam Bhattarai take over or rooting for the Communists, as rumoured, the 55-year-old himself will be in the fray Wednesday, either battling a triangular fight or a duel with the democrats.

Prachanda’s main rival will be former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, who was nominated by his Nepali Congress (NC) party much earlier. While the Maoists have 237 MPs in the 601-member parliament, the NC has 114.

The third contestant in the prime ministerial race is Communist leader Jhalanath Khanal, whose Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) has 109 MPs.

The UML, despite disagreements among top leaders, Tuesday succeeded in papering over the differences and the decision-making central committee announced it would field party chief Khanal.

Putting past rivalries behind, caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Tuesday proposed Khanal’s name at the central committee meeting while it was endorsed by senior leader Bishnu Poudel.

However, the UML has warned that if Khanal fails to get the signatures of two-thirds of the MPs in his support before the election starts off, his name will be withdrawn and the UML lawmakers will be asked to choose between Prachanda and Poudel.

Though ideologically the UML is closer to the Maoists, yet for the past 13 months they have ruled Nepal as a coalition government supported by the NC while the Maoists sat in opposition.

Besides the UML, an alliance of four regional parties from the Terai plains will also be a decisive factor.

While earlier proposing they would nominate Terai leader Mahantha Thakur, the bloc however had cold feet at the last minute and decided not to join the fray.

Of their nearly 80 MPs, in the past, the majority had supported the UML.

Though the Maoists need only 64 more to cross the halfway mark, they are seeking two-thirds majority as their nine-month old government in the past, when they enjoyed simple majority in the house, showed up its fragility.

Since their ultimate goal is to draft a constitution in line with their thinking, they need to control two-thirds of the seats in order to push their proposals ahead.

While they have 10-odd seats from 10 fringe parties, for two-thirds majority there is no option but try to get the support of the UML or the Terai bloc.

An NC-led government will mean the Maoists sitting in opposition. Such a scenario is likely to resurrect the chaos that prevailed last year when the Maoists obstructed the government both in parliament and through street protests.

This is the third prime ministerial election in two years.

If Wednesday’s election fails to usher in a strong government, Nepal may once again fail to promulgate a new constitution by 2011.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at

Filed under: Politics

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