Nepal is holding bypolls in three constituencies, but election fever has gripped the entire nationUpendra Yadav, Rabi Lamichhane and Swarnim Wagle are among the prominent contestants in the bypolls taking place on April 23.
The Election Commission is holding by-elections in three constituencies—Bara-2, Tanahun-1 and Chitwan-2—on April 23, but it seems the election fever has gripped the entire nation.
And Nepal’s political parties—both the traditional and the new—have been electioneering and preparing for the elections. Their pre-poll aggression hints that the contest is definitely going to be intense, given the candidacies of political heavyweights and prominent personalities.
Involvement of noted politicians and personalities such as Janata Samajbadi Party Chairman Upendra Yadav, Rastriya Swatantra Party President Rabi Lamichhane, popular Congress leader Govinda Bhattarai, economist Swarnim Wagle and well-known retired police officers Sarbendra Khanal and Ramesh Kharel as candidates has drawn the nation’s attention to the three constituencies.
Former minister Purushottam Paudel of CPN-UML and Shiv Chandra Kushwaha of Janamat Party in Bara and district leaders Jit Narayan Shrestha of Nepali Congress and Ram Prasad Neupane of the UML are considered equally strong candidates in their respective constituencies.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party hopes to win all three constituencies. The House seat from Chitwan-2 got vacated when the apex court annulled party chair Rabi Lamichhane’s lawmaker status on January 27, citing that the documents he had submitted while registering to contest the polls were invalid.
The country’s largest party, Nepali Congress, has fielded candidates in Tanahun-1 and Chitwan-2 with the support of the coalition partners. In Bara-2, it has decided to support the Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav. Interestingly, the ruling Maoist Centre is out of the race as it has not fielded any of its candidates. The party is supporting official candidates of the ruling coalition in all three seats.
In Tanahun-1, noted economist Wagle is in fray against Govinda Bhattarai of the Nepali Congress, among other candidates. Wagle ditched Nepali Congress a few days before filing his candidacy and joined the Rastriya Swatantra Party. His move has created ripples in Nepali politics and riled up Nepali Congress leaders to the point that they have made the Tanahun contest a matter of prestige. The UML has fielded former police chief Sarbendra Khanal in the constituency.
Last year’s major elections suggest Congress has maintained its stronghold in Tanahun-1, its bastion for a long time. The country’s President Ramchandra Paudel had won the polls on a Nepali Congress ticket, securing 25,361 votes against Ek Bahadur Rana Magar of CPN-UML, who secured 19,981 votes.
The influential Nepali Congress leader Gobinda Raj Joshi rebelled to contest as an independent candidate and stood third with 6,886 votes. Rastriya Swatantra Party also made its presence felt in the constituency with its candidate Bikash Sigdel garnering 6,044 votes.
In a bid to woo the Govinda Raj Joshi-led dissident faction, the Congress has decided to lift the suspension of the party’s general membership on Joshi and other members supporting him in the district. The Congress had taken disciplinary action for rebellion against the party’s official candidates. Now the rebels’ previous party positions have also been restored. But Joshi, issuing a press statement, said the move was meaningless. It means it is not easy for Nepali Congress to convince the dissidents and garner their votes in favour of the party’s official candidate, Bhattarai.
Electioneering by the party leaders in the constituency reflects that they will put in extreme efforts to secure a victory. Rastriya Swatantra Party chair Lamichhane reached Tanahu to create an environment in favour of Wagle on the day of filing the candidature. On the other hand, Congress’ General Secretary Gagan Thapa visited the district to support Bhattarai.
In the constituency, as a local observer from Tanahun, Mukti Pandit, said, the frustrated youths are more inclined towards Wagle while most of the elderly people with traditional loyalty to the Nepali Congress have been leaning towards the grand old party. “Because of delivery-less tenures of the same old leaders from the same old parties, frustration has risen and the hope in the traditional forces has been diminishing,” he said. “Congress also has a strong presence, especially among the older generation and in the villages. Wagle has to penetrate in the rural areas.”
In Chitwan-2, Rabi Lamichhane from Rastriya Swatantra Party won last year’s polls with 49,264 votes, defeating Umesh Shrestha of Nepali Congress, who secured 14,983 votes. Krishna Bhakta Pokharel of CPN-UML came third, with 14,647 votes.
The Congress had contested the polls with support from the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist. The people in Chitwan wholeheartedly endorsed the entry of the newly formed Swatantra Party, handing them victories in two out of three constituencies in the district.
This time, Lamichhane is contesting against Jit Narayan Shrestha from Nepali Congress, and Ram Prasad Neupane, the district chapter chair of the CPN-UML.
As well, this time around, the former Congress leader from Chitwan Jagannath Poudel has declared that he will support the Rastriya Swatantra Party in the by-elections. Poudel had contested for the mayoral position against Renu Dahal of Maoist Centre, against his party’s decision to support Dahal in the local polls held in May. Poudel secured only 14,728 votes.
“Though the Rastriya Swatantra Party is yet to build a strong organisation in Chitwan, it secured landslide victories in the major elections. Most of the votes were from the supporters of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. Congress’ Chitwan chapter lacks unity, and the seasoned leaders are also disenchanted. There will be a competition between the Congress, Communist and the Rastriya Swatantra Party, in which Lamichhane’s prospects are better,” Poudel told the Post.
“Every big traditional party is mired in disenchantment and factionalism, though they have a committed voter base.”
However, on Saturday, some Nepali Congress leaders who had rebelled in the major polls have announced that they will support Congress candidate Shrestha in the upcoming by-polls in Chitwan-2. Leaders Dinesh Koirala, Krishna Lal Sapkota, Bhim Bahadur Shrestha, and Meena Kharel appealed for the votes for Shrestha issuing a statement the same day.
Similarly, Upendra Yadav is contesting against Janamat Party’s Shiv Chandra Kushwaha and UML’s Purushottam Paudel in Bara-2. The Rastriya Swatantra Party has fielded Ramesh Kharel, the former DIG of Nepal Police, in the constituency.
The lawmaker seat was vacated after Janata Samajbadi Party’s Ramsahay Prasad Yadav took office as the country’s Vice President. Ramsahay won the November’s major polls last year securing 13,822 votes with the support of the CPN-UML. Maoist Centre’s Kushwaha came second by a slim margin, securing 13,468 votes. This time, he defected to the Rastriya Swatantra Party. Three independent candidates trailed: Ram Kishore Prasad Yadav bagged 11,043 votes, while Rabindra Prasad Yadav mustered 10,750 votes, and Arun Kumar Gyawali got 7,698 votes.
Observers from Madhesh say caste-based politics plays some role in the province. Upendra Yadav’s electoral strategy is keeping the Yadav and Muslim votes intact and luring all of them, while Kushwaha has been trying to attract the non-Yadav votes, which constitutes the largest percentage in the constituency.
“Nepali Congress has a stronghold in the constituency, but there are dissidents—many influential local Congress leaders are riled up after the party decided to support Upendra Yadav instead of fielding their own candidate,” said Chandra Kishore, a Madhesh observer and a political commentator.
The Bara Chapter of Congress had recommended Radhe Chandra Yadav as the candidate.
Local observers say though the support of the coalition has made Yadav look stronger, he has multiple challenges such as whether he can convert the caste-based votes fully and the transfer of votes from the Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre. Furthermore, he should also demonstrate his proximity to Bara.
Janata Samajbadi Party also has a strong organisation while the UML has an intact voter base. “There is also a chance of UML and Janamat coming together,” Kishore added.