Three Kathmandu constituencies where new candidates threaten old playersVoters say independent and fresh candidates are strong contenders.
The ruling Nepali Congress that has fielded Prakash Man Singh and Gagan Thapa in Kathmandu constituencies 1 and 4, respectively, should have been more confident about these heavyweights’ victories. But the case is not so simple.
Singh was elected from Kathmandu-1 in the first Constituent Assembly in 2008, then in the second Constituent Assembly Election in 2013, and again in the 2017 general election. Thapa was elected to the first Constituent Assembly in the party’s proportional representation quota in 2008 and won direct elections from Kathmandu-4 in 2013 and 2017.
Singh had won the Kathmandu-1 seat when most Congress candidates were defeated across the country. Singh and Thapa had won their constituencies also in 2017 when the communist alliance won an overwhelming majority. However, both influential leaders of the Congress see tough competition in Sunday’s vote. Singh fought for the party president in the general convention last year but lost the race. Thapa was elected party general secretary from the same convention.
District leaders of the party admit that the competition in Kathmandu 1 and 4 is going to be tough. Two district committee members the Post spoke to said on condition of anonymity that they had spared no effort to win the constituencies this time as well.
“Despite the hard work the party committee is doing, we expect fierce competition in the constituencies,” a district leader said.
Singh and Thapa are both facing their old competitors—Rabindra Mishra, who previously represented Bibeksheel Sajha, is now fielded by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party in Kathmandu-1 while Rajan Bhattarai is the CPN-UML candidate in Kathmandu-4. Mishra and Bhattarai were major rivals of Singh and Thapa last time as well.
Voters in these constituencies are also making up their minds to support independent candidates. Speaking to the Post, some of them expressed disenchantment towards the major political parties and their candidates. This is enough hint that the Congress and the UML face stiff fights in the Capital.
Arun Shrestha of the Rastriya Swatantra Party, however, has dropped his candidacy to support Thapa in Kathmandu 4. Prior to this, some other independents had given up their idea to contest the seat in favour of Thapa.
However, roughly two dozen young candidates are still in the fray in Kathmandu-1. Last election, Subuna Basnet of Bibeksheel Sajha garnered around 3,000 votes in the constituency.
Dr Archan Shamser Rana, a nephrologist, is another competitor in Kathmandu-4. Speaking to the Post, Rana said: “The people of this constituency cannot expect anything from Thapa and Bhattarai since both of them are in the grip of interest groups.”
A number of people the Post spoke to in the constituency had similar views about Thapa and Bhattarai. Voters in Kapan accused Thapa of having leapt out of their reach.
Locals in the constituency were equally critical of Bhattarai, saying that he was active only during the elections.
Considering the results of the local election, the Congress and the UML have a cut-throat competition in this constituency. Though the Congress is marginally ahead of the UML, if the alliance votes are divided, things will be difficult for Thapa. Therefore, Thapa’s chances of victory depend on the transfer of votes from alliance partners while independent candidates will also share the vote pie.
In Kathmandu-1, in addition to Singh and Mishra, UML’s Kiran Paudel, Rashtriya Sushasan Party’s Ramesh Kharel, Rashtriya Swatantra Party candidate Pukar Bam Malla and 29 others are running for the federal seat.
Voters think that Singh and Mishra are the top competitors there. A teacher of Ratna Rajya Campus, who votes in the constituency, told the Post withholding further identification: “Paudel is a natural competitor because of the UML’s organisational strength in comparison to the Rastriya Prajatantra Party but he has failed to impress voters.”
Considering the rift in the district chapter of the UML, Paudel has a great challenge, says a district chapter leader of the UML requesting anonymity. “Paudel in Kathmandu 1 was the choice of the UML headquarters rather than its local committees,” said a district leader.
Pukar Bam Malla, who was previously in the same Bibeksheel Sajha party as Mishra, is expected to attract Mishra’s votes. Malla, however, disagrees.
“Kathmandu-1 is turning out to be an unpredictable constituency this election,” Malla said. “When all the candidates are competitive, it’s unfair to claim that I only cut Mishra’s prospects.”
A retired deputy inspector general of Nepal Police, Ramesh Kharel is another candidate keenly watched. Pramila Bidari, a voter in the constituency, believes that Kharel is a top contender.
Kathmandu-2 is another constituency where new faces could change the election scenario. The Maoist Centre has fielded Onsari Gharti Magar there as a common candidate of the ruling alliance. She faces Maniram Phuyal of the UML and Sobita Gautam of the Rastriya Swatantra Party. The constituency has 26 other candidates.
A former Speaker, Gharti Magar is not in a comfortable position. A leader from Rolpa, she is labelled as a tourist candidate in the constituency.
“Former UML leader Madhav Nepal contested the last election from this constituency. With relatively new faces this time, there is no obvious reason for a party to claim victory in the constituency this time,” Suryaraj Acharya, who contested the 2017 election for Bibeksheel Sajha here, told the Post.