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Nepal mulls options as government formation deadline looms

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : As a presidential deadline for the formation of a new government loomed closer, Nepal’s warring parties failed to reach an agreement and began seeking options for the election of a new prime minister, after 16 bouts of futile voting.

On Wednesday, the deadline given by the President Ram Baran Yadav for the formation of an all-party government expires. It is the second deadline set this month after the squabbling politicians were unable to choose a consensus premier by last Friday and sought more time.

Now, with the three largest parties – the opposition Maoists, ruling communists and their ally the Nepali Congress – still insisting on leading the new government and loath to compromise – Nepal is unlikely to get a new government by Wednesday, barring a last-minute miracle.

The parties have therefore thrashed out an option: to hold elections yet again and choose a new government on the basis of majority.

To prevent last year’s debacle – when parliament held 16 rounds of vote but still failed to elect a new premier – the parties have decided to amend the constitution and revise the election procedure.

The new election regulation, which is expected to be tabled in parliament for approval Tuesday, lays down that a maximum of three rounds of vote can be held.

However, if, like last year, there is only one candidate, the poll will end after the first round. If the candidate fails to poll half the votes in the 601-member house, the exercise will automatically end.

If there are more than two candidates, the race can go up to three rounds. However, the decisive round will see only the two contestants with the maximum votes in the fray.

Also, marking a major departure from the previous elections, lawmakers will not be allowed to abstain from voting or staying away.

The polls became farcical last year after two of the largest parties began abstaining, preventing the lone contestant from either winning majority or being defeated by a majority vote.

The Maoists, the largest party in parliament since the 2008 election, are staking claim to the new government with renewed fervour.

Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda says his party should lead the new government, especially as it formally handed over its guerrilla army to the state last week and signified it was a truly civilian party.

The Nepali Congress, the second largest, says it is ready to be part of a rotational government. However, it should be allowed to lead for the first three months as it fears the Maoists, otherwise, will not push for the disbanding of the guerrilla army with its nearly 20,000 combatants.

The communists, whose support can make or mar the new government, are a divided lot. While one faction favours staying with its old ruling ally, the Nepali Congress, the other, headed by party chief Jhalanath Khanal, seeks to run the new government under Khanal’s stewardship.

The nearly seven-month crisis has caused the communists’ popularity to dip with a former supporter last month slapping Khanal in public, accusing him and other politicians of ruining the country.

Devi Prasad Regmi, the man who slapped Khanal, has become the new public hero of Nepal with support pouring in for him from home and abroad and an organisation formed to raise money for his bail.