The decision of the Nepali Congress to withdraw Ram Chandra Poudel from the country's prime ministerial election is the first positive development in Nepal's long political deadlock. It is to be hoped that this will pave the way out of an impasse that has otherwise shown little sign of resolution. The withdrawal brings to an end a farcical seven-month long process that saw 16 futile rounds by the Constituent Assembly to elect a Prime Minister. The NC decision was triggered by the realisation that its candidate, the only one left in the race, faced certain defeat. Unlike the earlier rounds in which the United Marxists-Leninists abstained, this time the party took the decision to vote against Mr. Poudel. Along with the opposing votes of the Maoists, whose leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” withdrew after the seventh round, the 17th round would have resulted in 350 votes in a 601-member Assembly against Mr. Poudel. Rather than initiate a fresh election process, the three main parties — the Maoists, UML, and NC — must agree on a consensus national government. Each of the three parties may still hope to form a majority government. But this would be short-sighted and counter-productive. It has to be remembered that the main task of any government now is to enable the Constituent Assembly to frame a new Constitution. The two-thirds majority needed for adoption will be difficult to secure if even one of the three major political parties is marginalised through narrow adversarial politics.

Republican Nepal, which began with so much promise, has lost precious time. The new Constitution was to have been framed by May 2010. The Maoists, the single largest party, clearly have the best claim on the prime ministership but a chain of shabby events saw the exit of the Prachanda government. The consequential political wrangling meant the deadline for the draft Constitution could not be met. The deadline was extended to May 2011, but even this is likely to be missed. An added complication is that the final term of the United Nations Mission in Nepal is set to end on January 15. The mission was mandated with the monitoring of weapons and the rehabilitation of personnel of the Royal Nepal Army and the Maoist People's Liberation Army. Its imminent departure has been a further cause for political squabbling over how the task should now be handled. As the main political players plan their next moves, New Delhi must live down its reputation of playing favourites in Nepal's internal politics. It must limit its role to encouraging the key players to come to an agreement on power-sharing so that the country can advance along a path of democracy and equitable development.