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Nepal votes in poll coloured by downturn and discontent

“SAME POWER GAMES”

Incumbent premier Sher Bahadur 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.

Several younger candidates have thrown their hats into the ring this year, foremost among them bombastic journalist Rabi Lamichhane.

The charismatic 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.

“I had voted for old parties in the past, but I voted for new candidates this time,” Sushant Thapa, a 26-year-old student, told AFP at a polling station in Kathmandu.

“I hope there will be a new team in parliament who will listen to the language of the public.”

But analysts say the nature of Nepal’s parliamentary system means that Sunday’s poll will likely result in a parliament dominated by prominent parties.

“It seems the public has stopped making expectations of big changes,” Guna Raj Luitel, editor of the Nagarik newspaper, told AFP.

“It’s unlikely that there will be a majority for any single party,” he said. “It’s again going to be the same power games and coalition governments.”

Nepal’s remote Himalayan communities make every national vote a logistical feat, and election commission officials have said it will take “four to five days” for the result to be known.

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