|The prolonged political stalemate could re-ignite violence in the country [AFP]
Nepal's parliament has failed for the seventh time to select a new prime minister, prolonging the political stalemate that has held up crucial spending and threatens a fragile peace process.
The country has been without a prime minister since June 30, when Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned under pressure from the opposition Maoist party.
Tuesday's failed attempt is the latest setback to efforts to form a new coalition government, sparking fears the country could descend back into conflict.
Maoists rebels, who fought a decade-long civil war against the state before transforming themselves into a political party ahead of the 2008 elections, hold the largest number of seats in parliament, but not enough to govern alone.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist party leader who is better known as Prachanda, is attempting to court smaller rival parties in his stand against Ram Chandra Poudel, chairman of the centrist Nepali Congress, the second largest party in parliament.
But neither leader has been able to secure enough backing from smaller parties.
The United Nations mission in Nepal (Unmin) warned 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".
The Maoists have been in talks with four small parties that collectively hold 82 of the 601 seats in parliament, but no deal has yet been reached.
Dahal holds sway over 240 votes to Poudel's 122. The third-largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), remained neutral in the vote and called on the two leading candidates to withdraw from the race and for the parties to open negotiations on forming a power-sharing government.
Nepal's parliament, or Constituent Assembly, was elected in May 2008 with a two-year mandate to complete the country's post-war peace process and draft a new national constitution.
But it has failed to complete either task, hampered by disagreements between the Maoists and their rivals.
Members of parliament voted on May 31 to extend its term to give them time to complete the constitution and the peace process.