Nepal's failure to elect a prime minister Wednesday exposed deep divides in the political landscape and made clear that the road ahead for the country’s peace process could still be bumpy.
Neither Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda of the UCPN-Maoist party nor his major rival Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress party, nor even Jhalanath Khanal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) party – the three major candidates – won the necessary majority vote from the parliamentary members in the 601-member Constituent Assembly.
A runoff between Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Paudel is now set for Friday. Mr. Khanal withdrew from the voting process after he failed to secure support of two-thirds of parliament.
Setback to Prachanda
The Nepal election result was a setback to Prachanda's former rebel Maoists, who paralyzed the country earlier this year by organizing strikes and blockades to force the resignation of Madhav Kumar Nepal as prime minister in late June.
In demanding Mr. Nepal’s resignation, they argued that his government was the biggest impediment to the peace process in the Himalayan nation. They insisted that a government led by Prachanda, the Maoist prime minister from August 2008 to May 2009, would inject momentum into the process.
Some analysts say Wednesday's election outcome was a result of Prachanda’s comeuppance.
“He sowed seeds of mistrust when he tried to destabilize the army by sacking the army chief when he was prime minister last year,” says Kiran Nepal, editor of Himalkhabarpatrika, a fortnightly newsmagazine. “In doing that, he blew the kick-off whistle of a tug-of-war between his own party and prodemocracy forces in the country,” he adds.
Fissures among Maoists
Nor has Prachanda made inroads among other parties. The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal have both hardened their stance against the Maoists. Before they will support Prachanda, both parties have demanded a time-frame to settle the future of 19,000 combatants, the dissolution of the Maoist's paramilitary youth wing, and the return of seized property.
So it came as no surprise that Prachanda managed to get only five votes from outside his own party, says Mr. Nepal, the news editor.
“The days leading to the election also exposed fissures in the Maoist party with several senior Maoist leaders openly saying that as Prachanda is unacceptable to rival parties as prime ministerial candidate, his more popular deputy Baburam Bhattarai should be nominated as candidate,” Mr. Nepal says.
“In the eyes of the public, the Maoist party is no longer a solidly unified party. This is another area where the Maoists have lost.”
The country now lacks a prime minister, an effective government, and a new constitution after the constituent assembly failed on May 28 to meet a two-year deadline on writing a new constitution.
Mistrust among political parties does not bode well for Nepal’s peace process and the prospects of a new constitution, says columnist Bhimarjun Acharya.
“It is difficult to hope that political parties that cannot cooperate to elect a new prime minister would be able to conclude the more difficult tasks of settling the future of former combatants and agreeing on a new constitution,” says Mr. Acharya, who is also a lawyer.
"Maoists must adopt a conciliatory approach," adds Mr. Nepal of the newsmagazine Himalkhabarpatrika. "The peace process is a compromise. The Maoists did not win the war. They must be willing to make concessions."