Nepal will hold national and provincial elections on Nov. 20, in a contest that the country’s ruling coalition, led by the centrist Nepali Congress party, hopes to win against a loose alliance of communist opposition.
About 18 million people are eligible to vote for the 275-member parliament, as well as the 330 members of seven provincial assemblies through a mix of first-past-the-post and the proportional representation system.
Nepal’s 30 million population, is grappling with six-year high inflation of over 8%, driven by a surge in global energy and food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This comes after two years of COVID-19 pandemic woes.
About one-fifth of the country’s people live on less than NRs. 200 a day. They could favour those politicians who promise curbs on food prices and other essential commodities.
The economy is expected to expand 5.1% year-on-year in the current fiscal year starting mid-July, according to World Bank estimates, after growing 5.84% in the previous year.
Political stability has proven elusive for the poor 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.
Nepali’s three major parties – Nepali Congress, the Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (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.
Maoist rebels, who battled the government for a decade before agreeing to a ceasefire in 2006, have joined mainstream politics.
Finance Minister Janardan Sharma, who served as a Maoist guerrilla commander, has said Nepal’s recent economic woes and political stability would be a priority for the voters in the election.
The contest is mainly between the Nepali Congress party and the CPN-UML party. The Nepali Congress currently leads a four-party ruling coalition and has been in power for most of the past three decades.
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 the favourite for the prime minister if his alliance wins. He has been prime minister twice before.
The Maoist Centre party led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal could emerge as a kingmaker in case of inconclusive elections. Dahal is also aspiring to lead the nation if things turn out in his favour.