Rock, Meet Hard Place

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Nepali soldiers were recently searching for survivors after an earthquake struck the western region of Doti. At least six people died in the 5.6-magnitude quake, a tragedy but nonetheless relatively good news in a country where nearly 9,000 perished in a 7.8-magnitude tremor in 2015, wrote CNN. A Reuters video showing the soldiers shoveling the rubble of collapsed mud and brick houses, however, gave a sense of how Nepali citizens are struggling in a harsh country.

“Nepal is one of the least developed nations of the world,” the Britannica website noted. Around 20 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

When Nepali voters go to the polls on Nov. 20 for scheduled parliamentary and local elections, they’ll decide how their government will rebuild from the devastating quake, continue their remarkable success in areas like reforestation, as the New Times reported, and how their economy will respond to the economic shockwaves that are also currently rocking their world.

The moderate Nepali Congress Party, the lead member of the current government coalition, is squaring off against “a loose alliance of communist opposition and royalists,” explained the Indian Express, referring to lawmakers who want to bring back the monarchy that was ousted after almost 240 years and replaced in 2008 with a republican form of government. Foremost in voters’ minds is inflation surging almost to nine percent, reflecting skyrocketing food and energy price hikes, in addition to lost growth and the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both sides have pledged to increase spending, create more jobs and lower the cost of utilities, the Diplomat wrote. But it’s not clear how they will achieve these lofty goals. Without much evidence to back up their plans, many candidates have taken to “slinging mud” at their rivals, focusing on alleged issues of character, something that hasn’t been the norm in past elections.

As a result, many Nepali voters are growing more cynical about whether their leaders can or will change anything. “Politicians care only about winning the election and not the plight of poor voters like us bitten by rising prices of essentials like rice, sugar, fruits, vegetables and cooking oil,” housewife Shobha Pathak, 50, told Reuters in an interview in the capital of Kathmandu.

China, meanwhile, has been insinuating itself in Nepali politics through its support for the Nepal Communist Party as well as investment and other financial ties, Foreign Policy magazine noted, moves that are in line with China’s more aggressive push to expand its sphere of influence in Asia and beyond. Nepal is also a crucial ally for India, though, argued Delhi-based senior journalist Parul Chandra in the Deccan Herald, an Indian newspaper.

Whether Nepal comes under the thumb of one of these powers or can prosper by playing them off against each other is one question that will determine the county’s future success.

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