Voting begins in Nepal amid looming economic and political stability issues



By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU, November 20 (Reuters)Nepalese women dressed in sarees and men in jeans and baseball caps lined up on Sunday as voting began in a general election that few expect to bring sweeping changes – or a government capable of quickly reviving the economy.

“I voted for economic development, securing jobs, food, clothes, education and health services,” Rajesh Kumar Subedi, a 52-year-old employee who was the first to vote, told Reuters. at the polling center in Phaimlamchuli, in the suburbs of Kathmandu.

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.

“We need political stability for faster growth of the economy and a government that can provide security for investors,” said another voter, Prakash Thapa, 25.

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

The government has declared a public holiday on Sunday, which is a working day in Nepal.

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

Several young and independent candidates, including health and IT professionals, are challenging former party leaders, hoping to cash in on their quest for change.

“Former party leaders should change their style of operation after this election,” said Thapa, the voter.

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 gross domestic product (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-19 visitors in 2019.

Foreign exchange reserves are shrinking and the rate of retail price inflation hovered at six-year highs of around 8% in Himalayan nationwhere one in five people live on less than $2 a day.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Writing by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Christopher Cushing)

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