After failing to get elected as Prime Minister despite seven rounds of voting, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda' has decided to withdraw his candidacy from the race.

The Maoist decision came as part of a three-point agreement with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist). Both parties agreed the repeated failure to elect a Prime Minister had “disappointed the sovereign Nepali people”, and there was a need to initiate a fresh process.

Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel is now the sole candidate in the contest. But to get a majority, he will need the support of both the UML and the Madhesi parties in the next round of voting on September 26. With the UML reaffirming its commitment to remain neutral in its pact with the Maoists, there is little prospect of Mr. Poudel winning.

With the Maoist decision, it is expected there will be increasing pressure on Mr. Poudel to withdraw from the race as well. NC leaders, however, have said in the past that withdrawing without a concrete alternative would only leave a political and constitutional vacuum. Sources said the Maoists have informally assured UML chairman Jhalanath Khanal of support if he puts up his candidacy once a fresh process is initiated.

Meanwhile, the 12th general convention of the NC began in Kathmandu on Friday. Leaders from across the political spectrum, and representatives of Indian political parties, expressed their best wishes for the convention at the inauguration ceremony.

The NC convention is the first after the death of its president Girija Prasad Koirala in March, and the reunification of NC and the Sher Bahadur Deuba led NC (Democratic) two-and-a-half years ago. More than 3,000 delegates will elect new party office-bearers. Acting president Sushil Koirala, former Prime Minister Deuba and veteran leader Bhim Bahadur Tamang are in the race to become the new president.

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