Nepal fails to pick new PM, crisis lingers
KATHMANDU, July 21 (Reuters) - Nepal's parliament failed on Wednesday to elect a new prime minister amid a standoff between Maoist former rebels and other political parties that threatens a fragile peace process.
The Himalayan nation has been without an effective government for three weeks since Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned under pressure from the Maoists who are trying to return to power and oversee the drafting of the nation's first republican constitution.
Maoist chief Prachanda, who was prime minister for eight months until May 2009, polled 242 votes while Ram Chandra Paudel of the centrist Nepali Congress got 124, both failing to meet the half-way mark in the 599 member parliament.
A third contestant backed out minutes before the voting.
"Since no one has secured the majority I have called a parliament sitting on Friday to choose from among the two," parliament speaker Subas Nemwang said.
Nepal has seen two governments in as many years since the 239-year old monarchy was abolished, and political instability has delayed the creation of the new constitution and stalled the peace process that ended a bloody decade-old civil war.
Prachanda and Paudel will now seek to gather support from among the more than 200 members who refused to vote on Wednesday and are demanding a coalition government of all or most parties.
Many parties say they are willing to support the Maoists, the single largest block in parliament, if they close camps that house their former guerrillas and give up their weapons which are currently locked up.
The Maoists have so far refused to accept these demands. (Reporting by Gopal Sharma; editing by C.J. Kuncheria)
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