Kathmandu: Reeling under the double whammy of bribery allegations and a lawmaker receiving life term for murder, Nepal`s Maoist party lost Tuesday`s prime ministerial election, for the seventh time in a row, plunging the country into a deeper political crisis.
Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who had led a successful 10-year war against the monarchist government and won the prime ministership with a thumping majority just two years ago, could muster only 252 votes for the same post Tuesday.
He fell far short of the halfway mark of 300 in the currently 599-member parliament, despite speculation that he would this time be able to break into the Terai vote bank.
While 110 MPs voted against him, 159 MPs continued to abstain, leading to his staggering seventh defeat.
Since the fall of his eight-month government last year and the growing controversies about his party, the former revolutionary has failed to recapture his victory over his challenger, former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress -- a failure that the Maoists blame on "Indian intervention".
The election, started last month after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned June 30, has remained inconclusive all through two months with two of the largest groups in the house deciding to stay neutral in protest.
But while the prime minister`s Communist party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist with its 109 MPs said it would still stay neutral, there was doubt about the front of four regional parties from the Terai plains, whose 82 lawmakers could have helped Prachanda return to power.
Though the Terai front too has been sitting neutral, last time one of their partners decided to break away, declaring to vote and end the protracted political crisis.
Led by former foreign minister Upendra Yadav, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Nepal with its 25 MPs, was regarded as ready to back the Maoists.
However, greater Terai support became debatable after an audio tape surfaced last week, purportedly recording Maoist MP Krishna Bahadur Mahara seeking NRS.500 million from an unnamed "friend" in China to buy 50 MPs needed to shore up Prachanda.
Though the Maoists have denounced the tape as "a fake" circulated to discredit them before the crucial election, there is now a growing demand by the ruling parties for an investigation.
The parliamentary party of the Nepali Congress Tuesday submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, urging him to start a speedy investigation into the allegation of horsetrading.
The council of ministers Monday also decided to form an inquiry committee after consultations with the chairman of parliament, Subas Nembang.
In yet another major embarrassment for the Maoists, another of their lawmakers, Balkrishna Dhungel, hit the headlines this week after being convicted of murder.
Dhungel was found guilty of the murder of Ujjwal Kumar Shrestha in Okhaldhunga district during the Maoists` "People`s War". Though the killing occurred nearly 12 years ago, the Supreme Court found him guilty this year and on Sunday, released the full verdict, sentencing the Maoist MP to life imprisonment.
The verdict has triggered a growing public debate. It is now being asked if Dhungel can remain an MP.
There are calls for him to be stripped of his position though the Maoists are claiming immunity on the ground that the ruling parties agreed to drop most criminal cases involving Maoists when they signed a peace deal in 2006.
As the country remains without a government for over two months, there is growing doubt about the peace process and the parties` ability to promulgate a new constitution in May 2011.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will table a report on Nepal before the Security Council in New York.
The election fiasco will cast a shadow over Nepal`s credibility and may lead to the Security Council deciding to withdraw from the peace process.
In 2007, the UN became a partner in it when its political agency, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was asked to monitor the arms and combatants of the Maoists` people`s Liberation Army as well as the Nepal Army.
Though the PLA was to have been disbanded within six months, nearly 20,000 guerrillas are still kicking their heels in makeshift cantonments and the UNMIN`s tenure, extended six times, expires Sep 15.
The ruling parties have fallen out with the UN agency, calling it biased towards the Maoists and seeking to take the army off its supervision.
In a warning issued on the eve of the Security Council meeting, the UN chief said he was not in favour of repeated extensions for the UNMIN "in an atmosphere of persistent and unfounded criticism that complicates its ability to function".
Calling the situation in Nepal not conducive to sustained engagement, Ban is recommending that the current mandate of the UNMIN be reviewed with a duly formed government.