Hindustan Times (Bathinda)

Looking at the key issues as Nepal heads into nat’l elections

- Agencies letters@hindustant­imes.com

KATHMANDU: Nepal is holding national and provincial elections on Sunday, which the ruling coalition, led by the centrist Nepali Congress party, are expected to win.

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

Here are key issues that will determine how Nepal votes:

Slowing economy

Economic growth in the Himalyan nation, wedged between Asian giants China and India, has slowed due to rising energy and food prices and monetary tightening. About one-fifth of country’s people, who live on less than $2 a day, have been hit hard by high inflation - hovering over 8% this year.

Tourism, which accounted for 4% of GDP before the Covid-19 pandemic, has yet to fully recover. In the first 10 months of this year, over 450,000 tourists visited Nepal, less than half the number of pre-covid visitors in all of 2019.

Additional­ly, political stability has proven elusive for the nation, wedged between China and India, discouragi­ng many investors. Nepal has had 10 different government­s since the abolition of a 239-year-old monarchy in 2008. Social media users are sharing a “no not again” campaign asking others not to return the same old leaders to parliament who would eventually be leading the government. The three major parties Nepali Congress, the Communist UML party and the Maoist Centre - have all led different coalitions in the past but none have served the full five-year term due to power struggles and infighting. 80% of the Nepalese are Hindus, with the rest Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.

Main contestant­s

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who leads the Nepali Congress party, has allied with the Maoist Centre party, the main group of former Maoist rebels. Deuba, 76, is seeking to return to power for the sixth time. His Nepali Congress party is considered the closest to India.

UML led by 70-year-old K P Sharma Oli, is in a loose alliance with a royalist group. Oli, known for his pro-beijing stance during previous terms, is favourite for the premier if his alliance wins. He has been PM twice before.

China, India interests

Neighbouri­ng China and India, with their strategic and economic interests, will be watching the election results. China has signed infrastruc­ture projects with Nepal under its vast Belt Road Initiative and envisages to link Kathmandu with Lhasa through a trans-himalayan railway network. neighbouri­ng India has long had strong ties with Nepal. The US is also now a major developmen­t partner.

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