Itahari provides for a curios electoral history. The main opposition CPN-UML has won all the local elections here since restoration of democracy in 1990 but has won in just one general election from the constituency that includes Itahari in the Sunsari district. That too after Itahari was split into two constituencies.
Nepali Congress (NC) hopes to change that in the upcoming local election with help of the ruling coalition that also includes CPN (Maoist Center) and Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP).
Hem Karna Paudel of NC is contesting for mayor while Keshav Kumar Bista of CPN (Unified Socialist), formed after split of UML, is contesting for deputy mayor on behalf of the five-party coalition.
UML has fielded Itahari chair of the party Yam Kumar Subba for mayor and Sangita Chaudhary for deputy mayor targeting the Limbu and Tharu vote bank in the sub-metropolis to save the red fort.
All four candidates for mayor and deputy mayor from the ruling coalition and UML are contesting election for the first time providing no clue about their personal pulling powers.
Itahari was a village development committee in the first local election after the political change of 1990. It became a municipality in the second local election 25 years ago and sub-metropolis five years back. But its expansion did not make much difference as far as the results were concerned as UML candidates were elected for the top post in all the local elections.
Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar was elected from the constituency of Sunsari 2 that included Itahari in the first four general elections—the first three times as an NC candidate and the fourth (First Constituent Assembly Election in 2008) on a Madhesi Janadhikar Forum ticket.
Itahari was split between Sunsari 2 and 3 for the Second CA Election in 2013. Gachchhadar again won from Sunsari 3 representing Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) while Rewati Raman Bhandari of UML was elected from Sunsari 2.
Gachchhadar, whose Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) had merged with NC, won from Sunsari 3 and Sitaram Mehta of NC from Sunsari 2 in the last general election even though UML and Maoist Center had allied for the election with a promise of post-election unification to secure almost a two-third majority across the country.
UML may lose local election for the first time in the upcoming local election.
Setopati talked with 85 voters reaching all 20 wards of Itahari. Forty-two percent of the respondents said they will vote for NC’s mayoral candidate this time while 33 percent of them said they will vote for UML. Fourteen percent said they have yet to decide while 8.5 percent said they will vote for RPP.
The difference between UML and NC was not that big in the last local election. Dwarika Lal Chaudhary (22,689) of UML was elected mayor defeating Rohit Prasad Prasai (19,985) of NC.
The five-party ruling coalition, split of UML forming Unified Socialist that has joined the coalition, controversial nature of Chaudhary and the anti-incumbency factor all may contribute in propelling the NC candidate to victory.
Thirty-eight of the 85 respondents said they had voted for UML in the last local election and 13 of them said they will vote for another party this time citing arrogance of the UML’s elected representatives.
Eighteen percent of those who had voted for UML in the last local election said they will vote for NC this time.
UML may also lose some of its votes from the last local election to RPP that has fielded Akash Subba, son of former minister Ram Kumar Subba who served as chief of Itahari VDC for a long time during the Panchayat regime.
Setopati also found respondents who said they had voted for NC in the last local election and will vote for UML this time. But they represented less than five percent of the respondents.
Eight percent of the respondents are first-time voters and some of them said they are undecided now while others said they will vote for NC.
The support of Maoist Center, that had secured 3,364 votes in the last local election, and merger of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic), that had secured 1,437 votes, with NC may prove pivotal for NC’s victory considering the small margin the last time around.
Unified Socialist, on the other hand, may not cost UML much as just one of the 85 respondents pledged allegiance to the Madhav Kumar Nepal led party.
The sample size of our field reporting is small considering that there are 104,000 voters in Itahari and may not provide the whole picture.
But everything points that NC may bag Itahari for the first time in the local election since restoration of democracy in 1990.