Nepalis vote amid looming inflation and political stability concerns

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KATHMANDU, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Nepalis were casting their ballots on Sunday in a general election in which few expect radical change – or a government capable of quickly reviving one of Asia’s slowest growing economies from South.

The election pits the ruling Nepali Congress party alliance, led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and some former Maoist rebels, against Nepal’s Communist United Marxist Leninist Party (UML).

There are no pre-election polls, but political analysts expect the ruling alliance to retain power.

Polling stations close at 5:00 p.m. (11:15 GMT), the election commission said. It could take up to two weeks to declare the final results.

About 18 million people are eligible to vote for the 275-member parliament and the 550-member seven provincial assemblies through a mixture of first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems.

In a video message, Deuba said the vote would strengthen the fledgling democracy. “Let’s celebrate democracy by participating in the vote,” Deuba said.

Political stability has proven elusive for the impoverished nation, wedged between China and India, discouraging many investors. Nepal has had 10 governments since the abolition of a 239-year-old monarchy in 2008.

Political parties have pledged to lower prices, create jobs and boost the economy at nationwide rallies.

A #nonotagain campaign was trending on social media, urging voters not to re-elect many party leaders for their alleged failure to deliver on their promises. Several young and independent candidates, including medical and IT professionals, challenge them.

The Electoral Commission urged voters to vote by secret ballot without fear of threats, intimidation and obstacles.

“Voting is not only their right but also their duty to choose representatives by secret ballot,” chief election commissioner Dinesh Thapalia told Reuters.

Analysts said a new government would face the challenge of reviving the economy and reining in high prices.

There are fears that a global recession could reduce remittances, which account for around a quarter of GDP.

Tourism, which contributed 4% to GDP before the pandemic, has yet to fully recover. In the first 10 months of this year, more than 450,000 tourists visited Nepal, less than half the number of pre-COVID visitors in 2019.

Foreign exchange reserves are shrinking and retail inflation has hit six-year highs of around 8% in the Himalayan nation, where one in five people live on less than $2 a day.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma Writing by Manoj Kumar Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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