Kathmandu: After failing to win the prime ministerial race seven times in a row, Nepal`s opposition Maoist party said on Friday it was withdrawing its chief and former prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, from the eighth vote scheduled for September 26.
"We reached the decision at a meeting this morning with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and the leaders of his Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML)," Maoist deputy chief and lawmaker Narayan Kaji Shrestha said.
Shrestha, who had also attended the meeting along with Prachanda and other senior party members, said it was a matter of regret that the parties had not been able to elect a new premier even after seven rounds of poll.
"At today`s meeting, all the leaders decided to try form a new government on the basis of national consensus or ask to change the election process," Shrestha said.
As neither the Maoists nor the UML will take part in the eighth round of election on September 26, Prachanda`s challenger, Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress party, will not be able to win either.
There is a possibility the Maoists may later field another candidate in place of Prachanda.
As per Nepal`s interim Constitution, a new prime minister is to be elected by holding a vote in Parliament. To win, a contender needs simple majority in the 601-seat house. If none of the contestants is able to achieve that, the poll process has to be continued.
Prachanda, who became Nepal`s first Maoist prime minister in 2008 with overwhelming majority, failed to get simple majority as two of the largest groups in Parliament -- the UML and a front of four ethnic parties from the Terai plains -- abstained from voting.
The UML, which withdrew its candidate after internal rivalries, had been urging both Prachanda and Poudel to withdraw their candidacy and amend the Constitution for a new election procedure.
The Maoists, the largest party with 236 lawmakers, were hoping to be able to woo the Terai parties which together have 82 MPs.
However, the Terai support fell through after a bribery scandal erupted during the vote.
Television channels played a taped phone conversation, purportedly between Maoist former minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara and an unidentified male caller, in which Mahara allegedly sought NRS 500 million to "buy" the votes of 50 MPs from the Terai parties for Prachanda.
Since the tape became public, the Terai parties have been either abstaining or boycotting the election, extinguishing Prachanda`s chances of victory.
However, Shrestha denied that the tape scandal has anything to do with the party`s decision to withdraw Prachanda from the prime ministerial race.
"We had taken the decision before the tape incident and our central committee also advocated it," Shrestha said.
The Maoists have dismissed the tape, saying it was circulated by India`s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing in a conspiracy to tarnish their image and spike Prachanda`s chances at the poll.
There was no immediate reaction from the Nepali Congress, the second largest party in Parliament, as it remains preoccupied with its crucial general convention that kicks off on Friday and will continue for five days, resulting in new party leaders being elected.
With the parties likely to begin fresh negotiations once again either to form a government or change the election process, there is also a possibility that the Maoists could field a new candidate instead of Prachanda.
Whatever the outcome, Nepal is now racing against time.
The turbulent republic has been without a government for nearly three months now and the key task of writing a new Constitution is in disarray.
Due to the feud among the major parties, Parliament failed to ready a new Constitution by May and ran into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Though it was bailed out by amending the Constitution and giving Parliament another 12 months to promulgate the Constitution by May 2011, four months have already elapsed without the statute-writing making any headway.