By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 24 (IANS) The charisma of Nepal's once enigmatic revolutionary, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda', faded further Friday when he failed to win the prime ministerial poll for the second time in 48 hours.
The 55-year-old former prime minister, who had obtained overwhelming majority in the same election two years ago, could not secure even simple majority in a parliament with 599 voters as over 200 MPs sat in abstention in protest and over two dozen stayed away in defiance of party whips.
Prachanda could obtain only 241 votes while 113 MPs voted against him and 218 abstained.
Friday's vote saw the Maoist supremo's position weaken since Wednesday's election, when he had won 242 votes.
However, the Maoists still remain ahead of their rival, the Nepali Congress, whose candidate Ram Chandra Poudel could obtain only 123 votes, one less than Wednesday's.
"Since both candidates failed to garner the 301 votes required by the constitution, the house will convene again on Aug 2," parliament chairman Subhas Nembang said.
The run-off becomes an unprecedented event, even in Nepal's unpredictable politics, with the house now scheduled to hold a third election for a new prime minister.
The fiasco came after the rivals failed to woo over the communists and an ethnic bloc of four Terai parties despite frantic parleys after a similar snub Wednesday.
The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the third largest party in the house after the Maoists and the Nepali Congress with 109 MPs abstained from voting once again, saying it would support a candidate only after he succeeded in getting the support of most of the parties.
On Wednesday, the communists had withdrawn their candidate and abstained from voting after a last-minute poll alliance with the Maoists fell through and the obduracy is regarded as part of their revenge.
The bloc of four parties from the Terai plains, who have 82 MPs, disclosed an agenda ahead of the poll, saying they would support the contender who helped them implement it.
The controversial agenda includes the formation of a separate autonomous state in the plains with the right to self-determination, and the inclusion of plains people in the army.
With nearly 200 of 599 MPs refusing to vote, the result was a foregone conclusion even before the election started.
Now Prachanda and Poudel have 10 days to sway the alienated parties. If they still fail on Aug 2 to get the magic number, the electoral process will be continued till one of them succeeds or backs out.
The impasse underscored the volatility of Nepal's politics after the death of Girija Prasad Koirala, the iron man of Nepal's politics who had the personality to unite differing parties.
Friday's fiasco further tarnishes the image of Nepal's three top parties which have been lambasted by MPs, the media and civil society as self-seeking, treacherous and corrupt.
While the NC comes off comparatively better, having been the first to patch up internal rivalries and adhering to one consistent stand, the communists and the Maoists have cut a sorry figure, showing themselves as unprincipled opportunists.
Prachanda, who was regarded as a charismatic visionary who led a successful revolution, has the most to lose, appearing as a dog in the manger who preferred to split other parties and support rivals rather than allow a new leadership from his own party.
The protracted impasse has begun to cause concern even outside Nepal.
The British ambassador to Nepal, Sir Andrew Hall, met Poudel Friday to convey concern at the delay in electing a new PM, saying it would affect the peace process and the drafting of the new constitution, which has to be promulgated by May 2011.
Britain is a member of the European Union and its concerns are shared by the other member countries.