KATHMANDU: While Nepal celebrated its biggest religious festival, Dashain symbolising the victory of good over evil, the nation ironically remained gripped by instability and pessimism as the warring political parties failed to elect a new prime minister even after the 12th round of voting on Sunday. A 13th round was announced for October 26.
Though the major parties resumed negotiations in the morning to find a way out of the futile jousting, the talks failed after the centrist Nepali Congress, the only party in the prime ministerial fray now, refused to withdraw its candidate, the former deputy prime minister, Mr Ram Chandra Poudel.
The largest party, the Maoists, continued to evade the commitments they had made while signing a peace agreement four years ago.
With the Maoists and their new ally, the communists, having agreed to stay neutral till Mr Poudel exits the ring, the veteran leader has no chance of mustering 300 votes, the simple majority that will allow him to form the new government.
Mr Poudel received only 89 votes, the lowest so far, while one vote went against him and 29 stayed neutral.
Parliament, with its 599 members, remained virtually deserted with nearly two-third MPs not bothering to turn up. Conspicuous by his absence was the Maoist chief, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, whose party triggered the crisis by forcing the Prime Minister, Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign though he enjoyed majority support in the house.
After the initial interest, followed by anger and derision, the public has now become apathetic to the election, taking no interest. The television channels that had earlier been beaming the elections live have also stopped doing so to register their protest.
Though the elections started in July, the country still remains under a caretaker government. The Maoists, who forced the premier to resign in the hope they would be able to step into his shoes, were forced out of the race last month after their chief became embroiled in a bribery scandal.
A leaked audio tape exposed efforts by the former guerrillas to seek money from ‘friends’ in China to bribe legislators and help Mr Prachanda win the election.
After the tape became public, the ethnic parties from the Terai plains whose MPs the Maoists had been seeking to bribe, dissociated themselves from the former rebels, resulting in Mr Prachanda’s repeated failure to win.
The Maoists are now trying a different tack to grab power.
Last month, they formed an opportunistic alliance with the communists, whom they had last year accused of betraying them and causing the fall of their short-lived government. Now the alliance is pressuring Mr Poudel to exit the race so that a new election can be held in which a communist-Maoist alliance can win majority.
To prevent that, the Nepali Congress has refused to end the contest, however futile it may be, in a counter-bid to force the Maoists into heeding to its demands.
The key demand concerns the guerrilla army of the Maoists that officially has nearly 20,000 combatants.
Despite agreeing to disband the force within six months of signing the peace pact, the Maoists have refused to do so.