As men and women across the country get ready to queue again at polling booths on Tuesday for a second round of CA elections, Nepali Times looks at how senior leaders of the three main parties stack up against their opponents. Five years of political bickering and foot dragging mean that most Nepalis have lost faith in their leaders. The candidates face an uphill battle even in their home districts, where they attained easy victories in 2008 and neither can they rely on traditional vote banks. However, by standing in multiple constituencies and fielding weak candidates in each other’s voting regions, senior politicians are doing their best to ensure that they don’t lose.
In 2008, UCPN (M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal managed 10,000 more votes than his nearest competitor in Kathmandu-10 and claimed a landslide victory. This year though, his election trail in the capital is far more difficult. Residents of this constituency, which includes Kirtipur municipality and 12 VDCs, are angry at Dahal for not following through on his commitments and are more drawn towards local candidates.
Dahal had promised the people here to turn Kirtipur into a model town, return land encroached by Tribhuvan University, and improve road networks, water supply, and ensure proper sewage system. None of that happened. The municipality alone has 27,000 registered voters, but very few are actively supporting the Maoists. Standing against Dahal are the NC’s Rajan KC, who contested against him five years ago, and local aspirant Surendra Manandhar from the UML.
Even though the Maoist party and Janamorcha Nepal (which later merged with the Maoists) won in Siraha-5 during the last elections, Dahal’s position in this eastern Tarai district is weakened because a lot of cadres from the area defected to Mohan Baidya’s camp after the mother party split. He will face stiff competition from the UML’s district chairman Lila Nath Shrestha, whose election campaign is stronger and better organised than Dahal’s who has visited Siraha only thrice. Independent candidate Jagat Prasad Yadav is also expected to put up a good fight since he has the support of both Matrika Yadav, chairman of CPN (Maoist), and Baidya’s party.
Out of the four times he has contested, NC President Sushil Koirala has won twice and lost twice. In 2008, Koirala was defeated in his home district of Banke by Sarvadev Prasad Ojha of Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum and only managed to secure third position. But with the MJF losing its grip in the region, Koirala’s aides believe luck will favour him this time round. Cadres, who had left the NC en masse to join Madhes-based parties in the previous election, have returned and revived the party’s chances of winning. The Muslim community, a pivotal vote bank in Nepalganj municipality, is also likely to side with Koirala because other parties have failed to nominate Muslim members.
He will face a tougher battle in the five Madhesi majority VDCs surrounding Nepalganj. Koirala will be up against Pashupati Dahal Mishra of Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP), a well-known leader in the district. Former mayor and RPP candidate Dhaval Shumsher Rana with his slogan ‘development and Hindutva’ and former president of Nepalganj Chamber of Commerce and Maoist candidate Damodar Acharya, are Koirala’s closest challengers.
Victory in Chitwan-4 where Koirala is contesting for the first time seems easier. However, his opponents – former NC district chief Bikash Koirala, who is running as an independent candidate, UCPN (M)’s Chitra Bahadur Shrestha, who won the last election here, and UML’s Dil Kumari (Parvati) Rawal – are capable of putting up a good fight.
Although he garnered seven and a half times more votes than his closest rival in 2008, a walkover victory is far from reach this time round for UCPN (M) leader Baburam Bhattarai in his home district Gorkha. Therefore, he has made a tactical shift in constituencies and chosen to contest from Gorkha-1. But this move might backfire, because the development work he initiated during his term was largely limited to Gorkha-2 and native Kiran Babu Shrestha of the NC is far popular than Bhattarai in Gorkha-1.
While Bhattarai’s supporters continue to threaten opponents in the area, they lack the political clout they possessed five years ago. The district committee too is more partisan towards Dahal and to make things worse 2008’s winner Parvati Thapa is in the Baidya camp. Since the Maoist leader has channelled most of his election energy on his constituency in the Tarai, he hasn’t spent much time campaigning in the villages unlike contenders Shrestha and UML’s Ram Sharan Basnet. However, the party’s strong organisational apparatus and Bhattarai’s stature in national politics might still propel him to top position.
In Rupandehi, Bhattarai will be up against UML secretary Bishnu Prasad Poudel, who won the elections here last time, and the NC’s Surya Prasad Pradhan. His competitors have labelled his campaign slogan of ushering greater prosperity in the area as mostly lip-service and claim they too are actively involved in the development of Lumbini on the local and national level. With former district secretary Basanta Shrestha, who ran in the 2008 polls, siding with CPN-M, Rupandehi is now a stronghold of the Baidya faction, making the situation unfavourable for Bhattarai.
It maybe a walk in the park for Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba in his home district of Dadeldhura where he has won all five elections since 1990, but things will be a lot tougher in Kailali-4 where he is contesting for the first time.
In Dadeldhura, Deuba will face Maoist candidate Khagaraj Bhatta, who gave him a strong challenge in the last election, and UML’s Tara Dutt Joshi. However, former CA member Hari Lal Thapa’s switch to Baidya’s party has noticeably weakened Bhatta’s position in the district. The return of UML cadres, who joined the Maoists during the people’s war, to the mother party and his strong stance on declaring Kailali-Kanchanpur as a ‘Tharuhat’ state and thus not supporting a unified Far-West have further diminished Bhatta’s popularity, which will in trun help Deuba.
Lila Bhandari of UCPN (M) and UML’s Maheshwor Pathak are Deuba’s rivals in Kailali. Since Bhandari, who won the previous elections from the same constituency has suffered a major blow to this popularity because of the CPN-M, Pathak is emerging as a strong candidate and will pose the greatest threat to Deuba.
Since 1990, Congress' Ram Chandra Paudel has won four consecutive elections in Tanahu-2, but his road to victory is not so simple this time. Paudel is up against businessman and UML candidate Krishna Kumar Shrestha from Damauli, the municipality with the largest number of voters. But his strongest challenger so far is Purna Bahadur Gurung, a central committee member of NC’s youth wing, who is running as an independent candidate and is immensely popular among the youth and the Gurung community. Even though he has been kicked out by the mother party, Gurung still has the support of Congress cadres in the area including party secretary Bishwa Neupane. To make things worse, NC’s district president Dhurba Wagle is close to Sher Bahadur Deuba and hasn’t shown much support for Paudel. However, his clean image and good standing in national politics should help Paudel on election day.
There is a good chance of victory for UML’s senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in Kathmandu-2, who lost here in 2008 to Maoist candidate Jhakku Subedi. Voters are extremely dissatisfied with Subedi, the UCPN (M) has fielded Lila Mani Pokhrel, and a relatively unknown student leader Pratima Gautam is running for NC in the same constituency. Therefore, Nepal is quickly emerging as the strongest candidate. The UML’s solid organisational structure in the area and the reputation that Nepal built during his time as prime minister should both come in handy.
It is his Tarai constituency in Rautahat-1 that Nepal should be more worried about, where he will be contesting against Madheshi Jana Adhikar Forum (Democratic)’s Ajay Gupta and Anil Jha of Sadhbhawana Party. Whether voters will drop their ballot in favour of Madeshi candidates or based on Nepal’s past performances remains to be seen.
Winner of Ilam-1 during 2008 polls, the road to success for UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal is littered with barriers. Many cadres in the district have abandoned UML in favour of Asok Rai’s Federal Socialist Party. His opponents blame him for ignoring the region’s development during his time as prime minister and several stints as minister. The party’s tendency to hide behind the NC and Maoists, its indecisiveness, and failure to give any direction to CA-I proceedings will also hurt Khanal’s campaign. He will face his stiffest competition from NC’s district president Himalaya Karmacharya. However, his affable personality and the UCPN (M) and NC’ dipping popularity in the area should work in his benefit.
The contest for Khanal in Sarlahi-1 looks relatively easy. The NC’s Sushil Karki is unlikely to put up a major challenge and the UCPN (M)’s Shambu Lal Shrestha, who defected from the Congress, does not have the backing of Baidya and his men.
In 2008, Makwanpur-2 went to Maoist Prem Bahadur Pulami with nearly 17,000 votes. Narayan Kaji Shrestha’s former party Janamorcha Nepal came in third place with 3,000 votes. However, now that Janamorcha has merged with the UCPN (M), he stands a high chance of registering victory here.
Compared to his opponents, Shrestha’s track record of development projects is poor, which will be his biggest weakness. Standing against him are the NC’s Jaya Ram Lamichhane and UML’s Subas Thakuri, both local candidates who have built their reputation around infrastructure development in the region. Thakuri is credited with kick-starting the construction of the Kathmandu-Sisneri-Hetauda road, while Lamichhane is the director of the infrastructure company that is in-charge of the Kathmandu-Hetauda Tunnel Highway. Two other issues that might work against Shrestha are: voters’ discontent with former CA member Pulami, who they say did not bring any concrete changes during his tenure, and the breakup of the Maoist party.
KP Oli’s winning streak was disrupted during the 2008 elections when Maoist candidate Bishwadeep Lingden took top position in Jhapa-7. But Oli is determined to snatch victory this time. The UML has a strong grip on this constituency consisting of Damak municipality and three VDCs. Furthermore, Lingden joining the Federal Socialist Party, the UCPN (M) fielding an outsider candidate, Gopal Kirati, and the NC putting a relatively unknown candidate, Suresh Yangya, have cleared the path for Oli.
However, no one is quite certain which way the large population of landless and labourer class, who voted for the Maoists in 2008, will lean towards this time. Their ballot is going to be decisive. Also since most other parties have fielded candidates from indigenous groups, which make up a significant vote bank in Jhapa-7, it could prove detrimental for the senior UML leader. Will voters remember Oli’s contribution to national politics and his fierce criticism of the Maoists’ violent ways on Tuesday? We will only know after 19 November.
Two polls, EDITORIAL
A second chance, MUMA RAM KHANAL
Let's not repeat 2008, KANAK MANI DIXIT
Far-fetched in the Far-West, SUNIR PANDEY