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Still no president for Nepal

Latest update : 2008-07-20

Members of the Nepal Assembly failed to elect the country's first president, thus prolonging the weeks of political deadlock that have followed the abolition of the Himalayan monarchy.

Lawmakers in Nepal on Saturday failed to elect the country's first president and end weeks of political deadlock following the abolition of the Himalayan monarchy, officials said.

The selection of the country's first post-royal head of state would have paved the way for Nepal's Maoists, who hold the most seats in a recently elected assembly but do not have a majority, to form a government.

But no candidate won the 298 votes necessary in a secret ballot in the country's constitutional assembly, according to figures provided by the legislative body.

The candidate with the biggest number was Ram Baran Yadav, who won 283 votes, according to a statement provided by the assembly.

Republican Ramraja Prasad Singh, the candidate backed by the Maoists though not a member of the party, won 270 votes, the statement said.

A third candidate won no votes, leaving the two others to battle it out for the largely ceremonial post again next week in a fresh vote.

"Since no candidate gathered a simple majority for the presidential post, repolling will take place on Monday morning at 8:00 am (0215 GMT)," Kul Bahadur Gurung, who chairs the assembly, announced late Saturday.

Both candidates who secured votes are ethnic Mahadhesis who hail from the troubled lowland area bordering India known as the Terai, where demands for an autonomous federal state have seen frequent deadly clashes.

Singh, who was arrested two decades ago for throwing small bombs at parliament and the palace as part of an anti-royal protest, was earlier pegged as the favourite by political analysts.

The country has been stuck in political limbo since the assembly, which will write a new constitution for Nepal, sacked unpopular king Gyanendra and abolished the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy in a landmark meeting on May 28.

Interim prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala has since resigned, but with no one in power to accept his resignation, the elderly centrist has lingered on as a weak caretaker.

The three main parties, who are also leading a two-year-old peace process that saw the Maoist rebels lay down their arms after a decade-long struggle for a republic, had hoped to select a president by consensus.

But political infighting led to a falling out and to Saturday's election.

The new president will take over some of the ceremonial duties previously performed by ousted autocratic king Gyanendra.

In the past seven weeks, as arguing continued over the symbolic post, Nepal has been largely ungoverned.

The Nepali fiscal year ended on July 15 without a new budget, although the assembly did approve a supplementary spending bill.

The country has lurched from strike to strike, over fuel prices, wages and working conditions.

But once a president is in place, that will pave the way for the formation of a government headed by a prime minister, most likely Maoist leader Prachanda -- whose group is still classed as a "terrorist" organisation by the United States.

"The president will accept the resignation of the (interim) prime minister and then the Maoists can form a government," explained Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the Nepali-language news weekly Samay.

Date created : 2008-07-19