Political instability has left Nepal with 13 different governments in the past 16 years and the frequent changes and squabbles among parties have been blamed for a slow economy.

Public disaffection in the country has intensified with the economy still in the doldrums from the pandemic.
Public disaffection in the country has intensified with the economy still in the doldrums from the pandemic. (Reuters)

Nepali voters have begun casting their ballots for a new parliament in a contest dominated by public frustrations over the Himalayan republic's elderly political elite and anxiety over its teetering economy.

The main contestants in Sunday's election are the ruling alliance of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's Nepali Congress party and the Maoist community party against the Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist-Leninist), headed by former Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli.

Security was stepped up across the country as a separate communist group known for violence in the past called for boycotting the polls and threatened to disrupt the election.

Several younger faces are contesting for the first time, up against established parties whose leaders have strode the corridors of power for decades.

Foremost among the new faces is journalist Rabi Lamichhane. 

The former television host, 48, made his name with a muckraking news programme where he shouted at officials and ran hidden camera stings on corrupt bureaucrats, tapping into public frustration over endemic graft.

Though analysts expect the country's entrenched political veterans to again dominate the next assembly, many voters have lost faith in the status quo and a mood for change is palpable.

Economy in the doldrums

Political instability has been a recurrent feature of Nepal's parliament, and no prime minister has served a full term since the civil war ended in 2006.

Sunday's elections are the second since a new constitution was promulgated in 2015, ushering in a new political order after the conclusion of Nepal's Maoist insurgency.

Incumbent premier Deuba, 76, is serving in the role for the fifth time. The two other main party leaders are 70 and 67, and have both held office as prime minister twice.

Public disaffection with the trio has intensified with the economy still in the doldrums from the pandemic, which devastated the vital tourism industry and dried up remittances from the huge number of Nepalis working abroad.

Inflation is spiking and the government has banned imports of several goods, including foreign liquor and television sets, to shore up its dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

Election results are likely to take days, if not weeks, as some ballot boxes need to be carried from remote mountain villages. Once all votes are counted, the elected members in parliament will chose a prime minister who will have to get the support of half the total members.

The next government, likely a coalition, will face the challenges of keeping a stable political administration, reviving the tourism industry and balancing the relationship between the giant nations — China and India — that neighbour the tiny country.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies