Voting begins in Nepal amid looming economic, political stability concerns

KATHMANDU, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Nepalese women in saris and men in jeans and baseball caps stood in long queues on Sunday as voting began in a general election that few expect will bring drastic change. – or a government able to quickly revive an economy.

“I voted for economic development, ensuring jobs, food, clothing, education and health services,” said Rajesh Kumar Subedi, a 52-year-old employee who was the first to vote at the Phaimlamchuli polling station, a suburb of Kathmandu, with Reuters.

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

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

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The Electoral Commission said that the votes close at 5 pm (1115 GMT). It may take up to two weeks for final results to be declared.

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

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

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

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

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The political parties promised to lower prices, create jobs and boost the economy in national level demonstrations.

Many young and independent candidates, including medical and IT professionals, are challenging the old party leaders, hoping to cash in on their quest for change.

“The leaders of the old parties should change the way they work after this election,” said Thapa, the voter.

The Electoral Commission encouraged voters to cast their secret ballots without fear of threats, intimidation and obstruction.

“Voting is not only their right but also their duty to choose representatives through secret ballot,” Chief Electoral Commissioner Dinesh Thapalia told Reuters.

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

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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 all of 2019.

Foreign reserves are falling and the rate of retail inflation has hovered at a six-year high of around 8% in the Himalayan nation, where one in five people live on less than from $2 per day.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Written by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Christopher Cushing

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Fiduciary Principles.

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