Kathmandu: With just two days left for Nepal to hold its third Prime Ministerial election in less than two years, the battle for the top job hotted up on Monday with the major parties leaving no stone unturned to grab the post.
As 601 members of parliament go to the polls on Wednesday to elect the 34th prime minister of the turbulent Himalayan nation, a pall of gloom and uncertainty hangs over the election with the two largest parties - the Maoists and the Nepali Congress (NC) - still locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
Like in the past, one seems destined to be in government and the in opposition, a situation that bodes ill for the peace process though the parties have pledged fresh commitment to a new constitution by April 2011.
The NC started with an edge, with its bickering leaders deciding to bury the hatchet and unitedly support former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel as its lone candidate.
The NC has also declared its intention to have a crack at forming the new government under its leadership and has opened negotiations with the other parliamentary parties in a clear, decisive way.
However, the Maoists are yet to come clean on their course of action.
The leadership of Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda is under a cloud with a section of the Maoist leadership now rooting for a change.
The name of Prachanda`s deputy and former finance minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai is also doing the rounds as the new prime minister.
If they can`t form a government under their own steam, they might be persuaded to support a like-minded coalition to keep the NC out.
The guerrillas` chief strategy for Wednesday`s battle is to break the ruling alliance of the NC and the third largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), at any cost.
The alliance, against odds, remained united in the last 13 months and shot down all Maoist proposals, presenting a growing threat to the former guerrillas` desire to have a new constitution reflecting their ideology.
A Maoist-NC union is out of the question due to the pair`s diametrically opposite philosophies as well as the NC`s proximity to the Indian government.
So the former insurgents are seeking an understanding with the communists. However, the UML is trying to drive a hard bargain with UML chief Jhalanath Khanal putting his hat in the ring.
To complicate the issue of a communist alliance, the UML has more than one contender.
Both the Maoists and the NC are also trying to woo the four regional parties from the Terai plains, who last week announced the formation of an ethnic alliance.
As after the 2008 elections, the Terai alliance could be the kingmaker this time as well, commanding over 80 seats as a bloc.
The Maoists, who have 237 seats, need only 64 more to cross the halfway mark of 301 seats in the 601-member parliament and a united Terai support will lead them to power.
However, their nine-month government in the past, when they enjoyed simple majority in the house, showed up the fragility of such a government.
Since their ultimate goal is to draft a constitution in line with their thinking, they need to control two-third of the seats in order to push their proposals ahead.
While they have 10-odd seats from 10 fringe parties, for two-third majority there is no option but break the UML-NC partnership.
Two other options, though slightly remote, are a UML or Terai-led government supported by the Maoists.
But past experience has shown that the Terai parties are as unreliable as the communists.
Besides wishing to be in power, they also bear the stigma of being puppets in the hands of the Indian government and ultimately toeing the line New Delhi wants them to.