Now that Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress has withdrawn his candidacy for the post of prime minister, the spotlight shifts back to Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and UML chief Jhalanath Khanal, the two other men who want the country's top executive post.
The onus is also on these two men to provide a way out of the political impasse that has impeded progress on the peace process and drafting of the constitution.
There are two ways to go about power-sharing, concluding the peace process, and writing the constitution. One of which is perpetuating the current climate of mistrust and division among and within the political parties. The other is simply implementing what the leaders have been saying: strike a consensus.
With just four and a half months months left for the extended tenure of the Constituent Assembly, can we finally have a prime minister to replace our caretaker?
Let us look at Khanal's prospects. Powerful leaders within his own party, PM Nepal and KP Oli, will do everything in their power to scuttle their party chairman's chances of becoming prime minister with Maoist support. Dahal is willing to lend support since that meets his three objectives: ending an alliance between NC and UML; intensifying the division within UML, a rival communist party (after all, elections will have to be fought); and extracting a heavy price from a Khanal-led government.
Khanal will not only have to compromise significantly with Dahal's Maoists, he will also have to effectively relinquish UML's reins to Nepal and Oli. Will he risk this? It depends on how desperate he is to become prime minister.
Dahal knows he cannot become prime minister with the support of UML, which is sharply divided. He still can be the prime minister if a significant number of Madhes-based parties, which command 82 seats in the 601-member assembly (now 598 after the death of a UML lawmaker) lend support to his party, which has 238 seats.
This would mean the second and third largest parties sitting in the opposition and an angry NC and UML unwilling to cooperate with the government on peace-related issues and the writing of the constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority of the CA for approval.
Dahal knows this too well and only his desperation to go back to Baluwatar might blind him to ground realities. So he might try a repeat of the Kul Bahadur Khadka episode.
Back in 2009, Khadka was second-in-rank in the Nepal Army. In return for elevation to army chief, he was willing to accept anything the Maoists proposed on integration of ex-Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army. Army chief Rookmangud Katawal had to be sacked, for Khadka's retirement was nearing. Then prime minister Dahal tried to do so, under the guise of establishing 'civilian supremacy', and immediately named Khadka the acting chief of army staff. Fortunately, the president intervened then. Khanal is nearly as ready as Khadka to do the Maoist's bidding now.
Besides, not claiming leadership of the government for his party would suit Dahal more in the current scheme of things. He can keep out Baburam Bhattarai, his party colleague and rival for the post of prime minister, and mollycoddle his party's hardliners, who do not want the party to join the government.
Dahal or Khanal, it won't solve our problems if a government is formed without NC and UML on board. So it is back to what is really needed: Dahal has to meet his side of the bargain on peace-related agreements, and that will be reflected in the agreement on making integration and rehabilitation of ex-combatants smooth and fast. NC and UML then need to accept a Maoist party-led government and together they should go about implementing the tasks that remain.