Nepal votes in historic polls

Nepal on Sunday votes in historic elections for new national and provincial assemblies that many hope will bring much-needed stability to the country, which has cycled through 10 leaders in the last 11 years. The elections are the first under a new post-war constitution that paved the way for a sweeping overhaul of the political system intended to devolve power away from a top-heavy central government to seven newly created provinces.
The constitution, adopted in 2015, is aimed at cementing Nepal’s transformation from a feudal monarchy to a federal democratic state and giving historically marginalised groups greater access to power.
It followed a 10-year civil war between Maoist insurgents and the state that led to the downfall of a deeply unpopular monarch, but also ushered in a long period of political instability that has hampered development.
“It really signals the end of a post conflict transition that was so elongated that we forgot where we were heading,” said George Varughese of the Asia Foundation think tank. “These elections remind us that we are heading towards stability.”
The vote will be carried out in two phases and most seats are expected to go to the three parties that have dominated the political stage for the last decade, regularly swapping power in a series of short-lived coalitions.
But some hope the devolution of power to the provinces will diminish their influence and alleviate the political impact of frequent changes of government. “There is the chance, that although the musical chairs will continue, the effect it will have on national progress will be reduced,” said Varughese.
The Maoist Party, formed by the ex-guerrillas after the war ended in 2006, has entered an electoral alliance with the communist CNP-UML party, creating a political behemoth that will be tough to beat.
That has left the ruling party, the centrist Nepali Congress, struggling to form links with smaller parties in a bid to remain in power.
Both have focused their election promises on the economic growth desperately needed in the landlocked country of 29 million, which suffered a devastating earthquake in 2015. Nepal has one of the slowest growth rates in South Asia and relies for more than a third of its GDP on the remittances from its huge overseas workforce.
Last year, nearly 400,000 Nepalis left the country for work, mostly on construction sites in the Gulf and Malaysia.
The Communist alliance has pledged to increase per capita GDP from $760 to $5,000 in 10 years while the Nepali Congress promised to create up to 500,000 jobs a year. — AFP