Nepal PM race heads for another fiasco

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

KATHMANDU - With only 24 hours left for Nepal’s political parties to name their candidates, the prime ministerial poll Thursday in the turbulent republic is headed for another fiasco. Last year, 16 rounds of vote failed to name a new premier.

The dim hope that the three major parties would hammer out an agreement to form a consensus government failed with each of them continuing to lay claim to the leadership of the new government.

To make the seven-month-old crisis even more complicated, the three parties are also fighting internally over selecting a candidate.

The opposition Maoists, the largest party in parliament, said Tuesday that though the ruling parties had earlier agreed to support a Maoist government, they had welshed on the agreement and destroyed the possibility of an all-party government.

Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who fought seven bitter rounds last year and finally withdrew after failing to muster majority, is likely to be the former guerrillas’ choice this time as well.

The party, that waged a 10-year war to overthrow Nepal’s omnipotent king, is now divided among its top three leaders - Prachanda and his two deputies, Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Vaidya.

The growing internal feud has resulted in the Maoists’ powerful trade union splitting this year with the new faction headed by a Vaidya loyalist.

The Maoist media organisations have also been affected with Bhattarai sacking a mouthpiece weekly’s editor and the Prachanda faction reinstating him.

The Maoists’ bitterest rival, the centrist Nepali Congress, is also locked in a devious leadership battle within itself.

This week, party chief Sushil Koirala, who has the power to name the new PM candidate, reorganised a decision-making unit of the party by inducting more loyalists.

The move is perceived as a bid to prevent former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, who has the record of splitting the party vertically in the past, from seeking nomination.

The third party in the fray, the ruling communists, is also a divided lot. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is at loggerheads with party chief Jhalanath Khanal, and while Nepal’s supporters are trying to prevent Khanal’s nomination, Khanal is ready to go over to the Maoists to win Thursday’s race.

Nepal’s parliament last month said the nominations would have to be made Wednesday. If the candidates fail to get simple majority in the 601-seat house Thursday, two more rounds of vote will be held during the weekend.

Though the house has tried to tighten the poll process by ruling that lawmakers will not be allowed to skip the vote or abstain from voting, Thursday’s election can still be a fiasco.

Since none of the three largest parties enjoys majority, they need to support one among themselves to attain the magic number; but till now, they have not been able to strike a poll alliance.

The protracted crisis has prevented the parties from coming up with a plan for the rehabilitation of nearly 20,000 Maoist soldiers though the troops were formally handed over to the state Jan 22.

As long as the guerrilla cantonments remain, there is fear that Nepal will not be able to promulgate a new constitution within the deadline - May 28, 2011.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])

Filed under: Politics

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