Nepal’s parliament held elections for a new president on Thursday, as the Himalayan nation faces growing political instability with a shaky coalition government that has only been in power for a few months.
The election of the president, a figurehead with little political power, has sparked feuds between partners in the ruling alliance led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who took office in December.
Dahal backs Ram Chandra Poudel of the opposition Nepali Congress party, a move that has angered his main coalition partner, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), which wanted its own candidate to be president. The party has since withdrawn from the coalition.
There was no clear explanation why Dahal took such a big risk by backing the opposition candidate and breaking his alliance, but power struggle between major political parties in Nepal is common.
The country experiences frequent changes of government. Nepal has had eight different governments over the past 10 years.
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National elections in November last year left a hung parliament, leading to a shaky coalition government coming to power.
Dahal also faces a vote of confidence in parliament later this month. Analysts say the presidential election and vote of confidence could lead to greater instability.
“The phase of political instability in Nepal is not over despite the fact that we had successful national elections and a new coalition government in place,” said Dhruba Adhikary, an independent analyst in Kathmandu.
Dahal lost the support of three key political parties that were part of the original coalition government.
His tenure got off to a rocky start before he could even address the major issues facing the country of 30 million people.
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Nepal is still struggling to recover from the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19, which has led to a drop in the number of foreign tourists coming to climb the country’s mountain peaks and hike its trails. The revival of tourism is necessary to sustain the economy of Nepal.
Dahal also has to balance the relationship between Nepal’s two giant neighbours, India and China. The two countries are vying for influence in the small Himalayan nation.
Nepal is surrounded on three sides by India with open borders allowing traffic into each other’s territories without a passport or visa. Landlocked Nepal imports most of its food, supplies and oil from India.
Meanwhile, there are fears that New Delhi is losing influence to rival China, which has invested in infrastructure development in Nepal and supplied the country with millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic.
Nepal’s new prime minister usually begins his term with a visit to one of these countries, but Dahal has yet to announce any such plans.
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On Thursday, a total of 884 members of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies gathered in the capital, Kathmandu, to vote for the new president. The final results were to be announced Thursday evening.
It is only the third time a new president has been elected since the country abolished a centuries-old monarchy and became a republic.
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