Combative TV host's party makes breakthrough in Nepal election

An anti-establishment television host will win a seat in Nepal's parliament after his new party tapped into voter discontent towards the Himalayan republic's elderly leadership, partial election results showed Thursday.

Rabi Lamichhane, 48, made his name through combative interviews with public officials and hidden-camera stings on corrupt bureaucrats -- populist credentials that channelled anxieties over a teetering economy.

A revolving door of prime ministers -- most serving less than a year -- and a culture of horse-trading fuelled perceptions before the vote that established leaders were out of touch with Nepal's most pressing problems.

Lamichhane won nearly 60 percent of all ballots cast in his Chitwan constituency, ousting a minister from the ruling Nepali Congress.

At least five other candidates from his National Independent Party (NIP) -- formed just five months before the election -- have won their seats, with four others on track to win.

The party is expected to be allocated more seats in the proportional representation section of the vote -- Nepal has a mixed first-past-the-post and party-list system -- which could make it the fourth or even third-largest party in parliament.

Among its winning candidates is lawyer Sobita Gautam, 27, who told AFP that voters were "fed up" with established parties and leaders ignoring their concerns.

"This is a mandate for a younger generation in the driving seat," she added. "I will become a bridge between the people and the parliament."

The NIP campaigned on a pledge to tackle the cost of living and widespread graft, both of which emerged as key campaign issues with the economy still in the doldrums from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has banned imports of liquor and other goods to shore up its foreign exchange reserves after Covid devastated the vital tourism industry and dried up remittances from the huge number of Nepalis working abroad.

- 'Vented frustrations' -

Political analyst Jeevan Baniya told AFP that the NIP and several candidates from other minor parties had fared well in urban areas where "the public vented their frustration over the non-performance of their previous representatives".

Incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, 76, who has been serving for the fifth time, was safely re-elected in his constituency. Also re-elected were the leaders of Nepal's two other main parties -- aged 70 and 67 -- who have themselves both held office as premier twice.

Though Nepal's entrenched political veterans are still expected to dominate the 275-seat assembly, Baniya said new anti-establishment lawmakers could play a key role in forming the next government.

"Initial results show that they will have a significant presence in the parliament that would require the dominant parties to at least approach them or work with them," he added.

Sunday's elections were the second since a new constitution was installed in 2015, ushering in a new political order after the conclusion of Nepal's traumatic Maoist insurgency.

The decade-old civil war ended in 2006, having claimed more than 17,000 lives and prompting the abolition of the monarchy, bringing former rebels into the government fold.

Since then the ex-guerrillas have alternated in power with another communist party and Deuba's Nepali Congress in various coalitions.