Kathmandu: The surprise visit by India`s special envoy Shyam Saran on the eve of the prime ministerial election in Nepal has come under fire with the fourth round of the poll Friday failing to elect a new premier more than a month after the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Friday`s run-off became a farce with the candidate with the edge, Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, able to muster only 213 votes in the 601-member parliament.
It showed a dramatic fall compared to the third round of election earlier this week when he had polled 259 votes and the tittering that went up in the house showed that the lawmakers too acknowledged it.
The fiasco was partly caused by the lack of faith by the lawmakers themselves in the election and the two of the biggest parties continuing to sit neutral through all four rounds, obstructing the contestants from grabbing the 301 votes needed to head the new government.
With the past three rounds of vote starting at least five hours late, many ministers and MPs were caught napping when Friday`s poll started only half an hour behind schedule.
Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Ghachhadar, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari and other ministers and MPs turned up late to take part in the exercise and were barred from entering.
Only the Maoist MPs seemed repentant but blamed it on their growing lack of faith that the election would ever throw up a new leader for Nepal.
Of the 601 lawmakers, only 468 attended the vote for Prachanda though 156 of them abstained and 99 voted against Prachanda.
Prachanda`s rival, former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, saw a bigger turnout during his turn with 561 MPs making it to the house. However, he was able to get only 122 votes while there were 245 votes against him and 194 MPs abstained.
Prachanda, whose party is the largest with 237 MPs, could have swung the election had the caretaker prime minister`s party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist with its 109 MPs supported him.
However, the communists have been sitting neutral ever since the first round in retaliation after they withdrew their own candidate due to internal politics. Also sitting in abstention with them is a bloc of four ethnic parties from the Terai plains who control 82 MPs and could have been a deciding factor.
Since a number of MPs from the Terai parties had crossed the floor in the last round of election to vote for Prachanda, the Maoists were hoping to improve their tally Friday.
Now, however, they have a scapegoat to blame for their poll debacle.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday sent as his special envoy former foreign secretary Shyam Saran to mediate among the warring parties.
However, Saran`s cloak-and-dagger visit, which was not intimated to Nepal`s foreign ministry, as protocol demands, or even to the political parties of Nepal, is now being regarded by the Maoists, royalists and a segment of the media as aimed at scuppering support for the Maoists.
Though Saran said on his arrival in Kathmandu that India would not interfere in the election, the Kantipur daily Friday reported that Saran had stressed the formation of a government that could include the Maoists but not be led by them.
The Naya Patrika daily said Saran had asked the Terai parties not to vote for Prachanda so that the poll remained inconclusive Friday and the Republica daily wondered why Saran, a former Indian ambassador to Nepal, had been sent.
But the most critical was the Nepali Times weekly that blasted New Delhi in its editorial Friday.
"Indian operatives mollycoddled the (Nepal) Maoists, as they did the Tamil Tigers in 1990," it said. "Delhi probably realises it bit off more than it could chew. It now sees the Maoists as a threat to democracy not just in Nepal but India as well, and is in no mood to accept an unreformed Maoist party in a position of leadership in Kathmandu."
The fifth round of prime ministerial election has been called Aug 18.
So far, there is little option. The only way out is if both contestants withdraw from the race but so far, none is ready to do so.
The formation of a new government will not be possible before the end of August, at the earliest, which will leave Nepal with less than nine months to unveil its delayed constitution that was to have been promulgated last May.