The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nepal EC holds key

Kathmandu, Aug 23 : If the Election Commission in India has scuttled the ruling BJP’s plans of early elections in Gujarat, then its counterpart in Nepal has decided to prolong the agony of two key political figures by withholding its verdict on who is the rightful leader of the Nepali Congress.

The three-member Election Commission headed by Acchyut Raj Bhandari will decide next week whether Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba or Girija Prasad Koirala is the legitimate leader of the Nepali Congress.

Along with the fate of these two leaders, the commission verdict will play a major role in deciding the future of the leader of the Opposition Madhav Nepal —widely speculated to be the next Prime Minister.

The commission was supposed to announce its decision on August 21. However, it decided to postpone the decision for a week in view of the Saarc foreign ministerial meeting which ended yesterday in Kathmandu.

The decision of the commission is crucial as the general elections begin from November 13. It will play an important role in deciding which of the three leaders will be able to garner the maximum number of votes in the 205-seat Pratinidhi Sabha — the Nepalese Parliament.

Koirala should not have much of a problem in proving his legitimacy as the leader of the Nepali Congress.

In May this year, after Koirala and Deuba parted ways, 21 of the 26 central committee members decided to stay with Koirala.

Although the Prime Minister managed to take away 33 ministers, the majority of the party representatives in the Pratinidhi Sabha decided to rally behind the party president.

But if Deuba is recognised as the rightful leader of the Nepali Congress, then Koirala’s faction may end up not only without the party symbol and the flag, but may be forced to contest the elections as independents.

Koirala had earlier stated that irrespective of the commission’s decision he will contest the elections. But, his close aides say, he is now having second thoughts and may boycott the polls if the decision goes against him.

The factional fued in the Congress helps the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) leader Madhav. He had managed to win 69 seats in the last elections and this time may increase his tally substantially to emerge as the leader of the single largest political entity in parliament.

“Madhav has a good chance of becoming the next Prime Minister if the elections are free and fair,” a political observer here said. There are fears the Maoists will target the CPN-UML candidates. Much of the party’s rank-and-file have already switched to the Maoists and if they are used by Madhav’s detractors for the elections then things may well become difficult for him.

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