Nepalis vote amid looming inflation and political stability concerns

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Nepalis voted on Sunday in a general election that few expect will bring drastic change, or a government capable of quickly reviving one of the slowest-growing economies in South Asia.

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

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

Polls close at 5 pm (1115 GMT), the Electoral Commission said. It could take up to two weeks to declare the final results.

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Some 18 million people are eligible to vote for the 275-member parliament and the 550-member seven provincial assemblies through a mix of simple majority and proportional representation systems.

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

Political stability has proven elusive for the poor 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 promised to lower prices, create jobs and boost the economy at rallies nationwide.

A #nonotagain campaign was all the rage on social media, urging voters not to re-elect many party leaders over their alleged failure to deliver on promises. Several young, independent candidates, including IT and medical professionals, are challenging them.

The Electoral Commission has urged voters to cast their secret ballot without fear of threats, intimidation or obstacles.

“Voting is not only your right but also your duty to elect representatives through 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% of 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 all of 2019.

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

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

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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