Big Three's top guns in PM race: No one is likely to get majority vote

Dahal’s candidacy and the UML Central Committee decision on Tuesday to withdraw its candidate and stay away form election in case it fails to garner a two-thirds majority (401 votes) has made the scenario of the parties going for a second round polling most probable.



The scenario is finally clear. The race for the prime minister’s post will be between the big three leaders of the Big Three. UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress (NC) Parliamentary Party Leader Ram Chandra Poudel and CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal will be contesting in the prime ministerial election on Wednesday. 
However, with no new equation among the major political parties till Tuesday evening, chances are high that Wednesday’s elections will fail to elect a new prime minister, thereby leading to a second-round of voting.
The three major political parties filed their nominations for the top post on Tuesday afternoon after they failed to strike an agreement on a consensus candidate to lead the new government. 
If the three parties go head long into elections, the swing votes from the Madhes-based parties appear decisive. However, it is unclear which side the Madhesi Front will back, though they have said they would support any of the three depending on how they commit to address the Madhesi agenda. 
However, there are possibilities of multiple scenarios emerging.
Second round of polling likely 
As of now, the Parliament failing to elect a new prime minister seems the most likely scenario. Dahal’s candidacy and the UML Central Committee decision on Tuesday to withdraw its candidate and stay away form election in case it fails to garner a two-thirds majority (401 votes) has made the scenario most probable. With the UML decision, unless the party changes it on Wednesday, NC candidate Poudel’s hope of winning the election may come a cropper.
UML, on the other hand, has little hope of winning the election as it will get votes from neither the Maoists nor the NC as both will obviously vote for their own candidates.
Given the scenario, Poudel himself sensed that “the House could go for a second round of polling because of the decision of the UML”, which commands 109 votes. He said so after filing his candidacy on the Constituent Assembly premises.
In such a situation, if any of the three nominees fails to secure 300 votes of the 599 members of Parliament on Wednesday’s election, the parliament secretariat will fix a date for the second phase of election. Caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal will continue in office until a new premier is elected. The second phase polls are likely to be held in the first week of April, according to an NC leader.
Khanal fate in the balance 
UML Chairman Khanal strongly believes that he has an edge over the other candidates. Khanal expects to garner votes from the Maoists, Madhes-based parties and Left and fringe parties. In Tuesday’s meeting, Khanal said he would secure 427 votes from them. “I am confident Prachandajee will pull out his nomination and support me,” said Khanal after filing his nomination.
If the Maoists and the United Madhesi Democratic Front support the UML, Khanal’s dream to hold the most coveted post will come true.
However, it is not sure whether the Maoists will withdraw support to the UML as some Maoist leaders said Dahal’s candidacy was irrevocable.
Besides, the Maoist party itself is divided on supporting Khanal. A faction of Maoist leaders led by Baburam Bhattarai wants to take the middle path when it comes to supporting Khanal, while Dahal is comparatively loyal to Khanal rather than Poudel.
However, some UML leaders said Khanal’s consensus politics strategy would be harmful for him.
Furthermore, Khanal will be in more trouble if he fails to secure a two-thirds majority (support of the 401 lawmakers) before Wednesday’s voting.
A two-thirds majority will not be possible for the UML candidate without the backing of the UCPN (Maoist), the Madhesi Front and fringe parties.
Khanal will be ousted from the race if his nomination is withdrawn. “In case of nomination withdrawal, any candidate would not be entertained in the second phase elections. This is the parliamentary tradition,” said Speaker Subas Nembang.
However, party leaders claimed no one would block party Chairman Khanal from contesting in the second round. “His attempts are for consensus and nobody will stop him from forging consensus even if parties fail to form a majority government,” UML Secretary Yuba Raj Gywali said.
Maoists bank on Madhesi parties  
The UCPN (Maoist) claims that it will emerge victorious and form the next majority government, if not a consensus one. The Maoist confidence comes from its belief that it will get full support from the Madhes-based and fringe parties. 
Having confirmed that it would get neither the NC nor UML support, the Maoist party has turned to the Madehes-based and fringe parties, which are on the fence.
The Maoist claim holds some water, too. If all three parties stand by their position till the last hour on Wednesday, Dahal has the possibility of securing a majority if the Madhesi Front, the alliance of four Madhes-based parties comprising 83 votes, decides to back the Maoist party. The Maoists have 237 votes in the parliament. Besides, the fringe parties have 55 lawmakers in the House, though their vote is likely to be scattered among the three candidates. 
Dahal, to that effect, held consultations with MJF Chairman Upendra Yadav and Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party chairman Mahantha Thakur. The leaders, however, did not give him a clear stand.  
Earlier, the Maoist Politburo meeting picked Dahal as a party’s candidate in the election. The Maoist Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidya-led faction insisted that Dahal file his candidacy to block another Vice Chairman Babu Ram Bhattarai
The Bhattarai faction has reasoned that a majority vote could be garnered in Bhattarai’s name. Earlier, the Madhes-based parties had vowed to support Bhattarai
However, Dahal is still hopeful of political consensus. “I think that a new atmosphere of national consensus can be built at the last moment through my candidacy,” he said after filing his nomination.

“We are open to discussions and ultimately there will be consensus among the political parties.”
NC chances yet a boost? 
With the Maoist party fielding its own candidate, NC stalwarts say that the chances of Congress winning the elections have become high. They believe Dahal’s candidacy virtually shattered Khanal’s hope of winning the elections. Under this condition, they say, UML has no 
alternative other than to support the NC. Though the UML has announced that it will withdraw its candidate and stay away from the elections in case it fails to confirm a two-thirds majority vote by Wednesday afternoon, NC leaders believe the “UML will change its decision”. 
The UML was considered to be the strongest contestant in that a section of the Maoists had opened the possibility of 
supporting the party in case they failed to form their own majority government. “I’ve come to know that Dahal’s nomination is irrevocable, which means the UML has already lost the Maoist votes it expected. Since the UML is not going to win without Maoist support, it has no alternative but to support NC,” said NC Vice President Gopal Man Shrestha. “UML will support the Congress also because it received the NC’s support while electing Madhav Kumar Nepal to the post of prime minister last year.”
NC leaders say that everything is possiblein politics. “If the UML fails to get a two-thirds majority, there will be further talks between the NC and UML. We hope there are still chances that the UML will agree to support NC in that case,” Shrestha said. 
The NC further claims that the party will garner support from the Madhesi Janadhikari Forum (MJF), which is not in the UML-led coalition. “We will have full support from the existing coalition plus from Upendra Yadav’s MJF,” Shrestha said.

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