What are the key issues in Nepal’s national elections?

About 18 million people are eligible to vote for members of parliament and seven provincial assemblies in Sunday’s polls.

A woman casts a vote during a mock election, held to familiarize people with the electoral process ahead of the general elections, in Lalitpur, Nepal
A woman casts a vote during a mock election held to familiarise people with the electoral process ahead of general elections in Lalitpur, Nepal [File: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters]

Nepal will hold national and provincial elections on Sunday, which the ruling coalition, led by the centrist Nepali Congress party, is 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 the Nepalis vote:

Slowing economy and high inflation

The economy of the Himalayan nation, wedged between Asian giants China and India, is slowing down, hit by rising energy and food prices, monetary tightening and fears of a global recession.

The $38bn economy is expected to expand 4.7 percent in the current fiscal year starting in mid-July, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB), down from the previous year’s estimate of 5.8 percent.

About one-fifth of the country’s people, who live on less than $2 a day, have been hit hard by high inflation – hovering at more than 8 percent this year.


Election promises

Political parties have promised to bring down interest rates, provide free medical services, improve transport and boost the economy over the next five years.

The Nepali Congress party has promised to create 250,000 jobs every year if it is returned to power while the main opposition Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) pledged to create 500,000 jobs every year.

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries and its economy depends on foreign aid, tourism and remittances from its overseas workers. Western aid comprises more than 30 percent of its annual budget.


Political stability

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 UML party and the Maoist Centre – have all led different coalitions in the past but none has served the full five-year term due to power struggles and infighting.

Eighty percent of Nepalis 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.

An official from the election commission checks ballot boxes before distributing them ahead of the general elections, in Kathmandu, Nepal
A Nepal election commission official checks ballot boxes before distributing them ahead of the general elections, in capital Kathmandu [Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters]

The 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 prime minister if his alliance wins. He has been prime minister twice before.

The Maoist Centre party led by supremo Prachanda could emerge as a kingmaker in case of inconclusive elections. Prachanda, who still goes by his nom de guerre meaning “fierce”, is also aspiring for the top job.

Results are expected within two weeks.

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 and Road Initiative (BRI) and envisages to link Kathmandu with Lhasa through a trans-Himalayan railway network. Neighbouring India has long had strong ties with Nepal.

The United States is also now a major development partner.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies