More than a month after the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, the country is yet to get a new premier thanks to the bitter struggle for power between the two largest parties that could turn Monday's election into another fiasco.
As Nepal's parliament begins a third round of voting Monday afternoon to elect Nepal's successor, the exercise is doomed to fail unless two major parties that have abstained from voting in the previous rounds decide to back any of the two contenders.
The Maoists, who led a short-lived government for eight months, have an edge over their rival, the Nepali Congress (NC), by virtue of being the largest party in parliament.
Maoist supremo and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, whose hat is in Monday's ring, needs to woo only about 70 votes from outside parties to attain a simple majority of 301 MPs. The Maoists, once a banned underground party, won 237 seats in the election two years ago that saw them come to power for the first time.
The 2008 election humbled the NC that till then had been the largest party. Its top leaders and ministers were routed and it could get only 114 seats.
Former deputy prime minister Ram Chandra Poudel, who is contesting the poll as the NC candidate, will find it hard to take his tally of supporters to 301 Monday, especially given the fact that in the earlier rounds he was repeatedly worsted by Prachanda.
The election turned into a stalemate after the prime minister's party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), turned vengeful following an aborted attempt to take part in it. Enmity within the party and bitter rivalry with the Maoists and NC has made the UML now sit on the fence, refusing to vote for either side.
The UML has 109 votes and while their support can make the Maoists sail through Monday's election, the NC will still fall short of simple majority and needs to woo more parties.
The other kingmaker is a bloc of four ethnic parties from the Terai plains who together command over 80 votes.
If they support the Maoists in Monday's election, Prachanda will be able to make a triumphant comeback. But if they support the NC, the stalemate will continue unless the NC can win the communists over as well.
The Terai parties say they will support whosoever agrees to their demands.
However, both the Maoists and NC have rejected two of the primary demands: carving out a single autonomous Terai state in southern Nepal and fixing a quota for Terai people in the army.
On Monday, ahead of the afternoon's election, Maoist top leaders began last-minute negotiations with the Terai bloc to thrash out an agreement.
The Maoists, despite the past failure to win simple majority, said Prachanda was likely to garner majority in Monday's poll.
"We are optimistic the country will get a new prime minister Monday," Maoist MP and deputy chief Narayan Kaji Prakash said. "We have already been assured of over 301 votes."
But despite the boast, the party leadership remained worried. Another senior leader, Chandra Prakash Gajurel, said a new option would have to be explored if the deadlock was not resolved Monday.
As per the constitution, the two contestants will have to keep slugging it out endlessly till one of them manages to attain majority. However, the delay could cost Nepal its new constitution.
The restive republic failed to get a new constitution in May due to the infighting among the parties and now, the extended deadline of May 2011 also lies in peril.
A tabloid Monday came down heavily on the warring parties, warning them that Nepal's parliament and the prime ministerial election had become a farce in the eye of Nepalis as well as the international community.
"If parliament can't even give the nation a prime minister, each of the (599) MPs should declare that they have become redundant," the Naya Patrika daily said in a scathing front-page editorial.