, KATHMANDU, Sep 7 – Nepal\’s parliament failed to elect a new prime minister for the seventh time on Tuesday, prolonging a stalemate that has held up vital public spending and threatened the fragile peace process.
The country has been without a government since June 30, when former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal stood down under pressure from the opposition Maoist party to pave the way for a new national unity government.
Since then, the parties have been unable to agree on the shape of the new administration and a series of votes in the 601-member parliament have proved inconclusive, with none of the candidates securing an overall majority.
The Maoists, who fought a decade-long civil war against the state before transforming themselves into a political party and winning 2008 elections, hold the largest number of seats in parliament, but not enough to govern alone.
Maoist leader and former warlord Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better know as Prachanda or "the fierce one", won 252 votes in Tuesday\’s poll, beating his only opponent but still falling well short of the necessary majority.
Rival candidate Ram Chandra Poudel, chairman of the second-largest party in parliament, the centrist Nepali Congress, took 119 votes.
Parliament has said the next election will be held on September 26, further delaying the annual budget and holding up much-needed public spending in one of the world\’s poorest countries.
The stalemate has also halted work on the peace process that began when the bloody civil war ended in 2006.
The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) warned Tuesday that there were "few signs of a consensual way forward in Nepal\’s peace process with the major parties preoccupied with internal fissures and the question of power sharing."
In a statement, it said a UN report due to be published in New York later Tuesday would also highlight "other challenges such as continued insecurity and reports of lawlessness… and lack of progress in addressing impunity for human rights violations."
UNMIN was set up after the war ended with a temporary mandate to monitor the Maoist and national armies and assist with the peace process, and has repeatedly expressed frustration at the slow pace of progress.
Its current term is due to expire on September 15, but is expected to be extended further.