Nepal's President held talks with leaders of three main political parties today to come up with a consensus candidate for Prime Minister and try to end revolving-door politics that has seen 23 governments in 26 years.
Prime Minister KP Oli, ahead of a likely defeat in a no-confidence vote in Parliament brought by his allies,former Maoist rebels, resigned on Sunday, opening up the way for a political tussle to lead the country of 28 million people.
President Vidhya Devi Bhandari had invited Oli, Maoist chief Prachanda and the leader of the Nepali Congress party, Sher Bahadur Deuba, to discuss a new government, an aide to the president said.
"The meeting is to tell them to move ahead unitedly,” the aide, Bhesh Raj Adhikari, said. “The country has many problems and all major parties must unite to resolve them."
In a statement, President Bhandari called on the parties to form a consensus government within a week as per the Article 298 (2) of the Constitution of Nepal.
Prachanda eyes comeback
The leader of Nepal's former Maoist rebel movement looked set today for a comeback as Prime Minister after the main opposition party gave him its backing to head a new coalition.
Better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda (Nepali for "the fierce one"), Pushpa Kamal Dahal led a decade-long insurgency in which around 16,000 people lost their lives.
In 2006, he emerged from hiding to sign a peace deal with mainstream parties that paved the way for the abolition of the world's last Hindu monarchy and his own rise to power via the ballot box.
Dahal became Nepal's first elected premier in August 2008 but his government collapsed nine months later in a row over the integration of former Maoist fighters into the army, a key tenet of the peace process.
His decision to withdraw support for Oli has now opened up the path for his own return to the premiership, with the Nepali Congress pledging support.
"We are in consultations for the formation of a new government... Dahal will be the next prime minister, with us playing an important role," senior Nepali Congress leader Minendra Rijal said.
There was no immediate reaction from Dahal but a Maoist spokeswoman, Pampha Bhusal, said that efforts would be made to bring others on board.
"The no-confidence motion began with an understanding between our party and the Nepali Congress, but we hope to work with other parties as well as we form the government," Bhusal said.
"We are ready for the President to take the formal process forward."
The Nepali Congress is the largest party in the 595-seat Parliament, with 196 MPs. A tie-up with the Maoists, who have 80 seats, would leave them just short of a majority.
If he does seal his comeback, one of Dahal's first key tasks will be to finally implement a new constitution and resolve protests in Nepal's southern plains.
Nepal has been in a political crisis since September when a Constituent Assembly approved a new constitution amid a political row with minority Madhesis in the southern plains over the creation of federal states under the new system.
Ethnic Madhesis, who have long complained of neglect by a ruling elite drawn from the hill region, said the creation of the states would marginalise them by dividing their homeland.
More than 50 people have died in clashes between police and protesters, who say the constitution has left them marginalised.
The new charter was meant to bolster Nepal's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability.
But ongoing discussions between the government and protesters over the charter -- particularly over the rights of different ethnic groups -- have failed to yield agreement.
Oli's communist UML party said it would not support the Maoists' bid for power after they had brought down Oli's government.
"There is no possibility of us joining,” senior UML official Pradip Gyawali said. “We’ll remain a strong opposition.”