The turbulent republic of Nepal headed towards fresh prime ministerial elections on Monday, the third in two years, as its disgraced parties failed to lay aside differences over power-sharing.
Since the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal on June 30, the country has been under the rule of a caretaker government with the three major parties locking horns for the premier's post and failing to name a candidate acceptable to all the 25 parliamentary parties.
On Monday, the deadline given by President Ram Baran Yadav to form an all-party government expires. This is the second failed deadline after the grappling parties were unable to meet an earlier one last week and sought for more time.
Now with the president unlikely to grant yet another extension, it is likely that he will call for an election this week when the 601-member parliament will choose a new prime minister on the basis of simple majority.
Though Narayan Kaji Shrestha, deputy chief of the opposition Maoists, said his party will hold yet another round of negotiations with the two major ruling parties - the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) -- it is nearly impossible that the three can thrash out a bargain at the last moment.
The traditional rivalry between the ruling parties and the former guerrillas worsened after the Maoists unveiled a new plan to dismantle their parallel armies, which was rejected by the NC and UML as being dilatory.
The ruling parties are also accusing the Maoists of welshing on their peace commitments and still continuing with extortion, violence and murders.
The caretaker prime minister last week accused the former rebels of engineering the murder of a party leader, who was stabbed to death in eastern Nepal Thursday.
The widening rift between the three has paralysed Nepal's fragile peace process and halted the writing of a new constitution.
It has also prevented the government from tabling the budget for the new financial year. With the current one ending Friday, the caretaker government decided to table a mini budget Monday to avoid a financial crisis.
The mini budget will allow the outgoing government to access only one-third of funds so that it can address immediate needs like paying salaries. It means development, education and health programmes will be put on hold till a new government is formed.
However, given the lack of consensus, an elected prime minister is not likely to end Nepal's woes.
The outgoing premier still enjoys majority support. Yet he had to quit due to continuous obstruction by the Maoists.
The Maoists, the biggest party in parliament after the 2008 elections, say they have been mandated by the people to lead the government.
However, since they fell short of majority, they can't form the new government on their own. And given their continuous flouting of the peace accord, none of the other major parties are willing to support them.
Unless a miracle occurs, the prime ministerial election is likely to witness what Maoist chief Prachanda in the past dubbed a "dirty game" - horse-trading and floor-crossing.