CPN-UML candidate for mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City Keshav Sthapit will struggle to build an unsurmountable lead over Nepali Congress (NC) candidate Sirjana Singh from the core of Kathmandu like current Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya from his party did in the last local election.
Setopati talked with 200 voters from Teku, Tripureshwore, Bhotebahal, Ganabahal, Lagan, Brahmatole, Jhochhe, Basantapur, Maru, Bhimsensthan, Yatkha, Indrachowk, Ason, Bangemuda, Naradevi, Chhetrapati, Thamel and other areas at the core of Kathmandu in the first stage of our field reporting in the capital city.
Sixty-two (31 percent) of them said they will vote for Sthapit, 51 (25.5 percent) for Singh, 36 (18 percent) for independent candidate Balen Shah, 15 (7.5 percent) for RPP's Madan Das Shrestha, 10 (5 percent) for another independent candidate Suman Sayami and two (1 percent) for Samikshya Baskota of Bibeksheel Sajha.
The core area constitutes whole or part of ward numbers 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 of Kathmandu that have a total of 79,865 voters. More than 55,000 votes will be cast from the core if the voter turnout is around the 70 percent registered five years back.
UML and NC are the major competitors in the core dominated by Newars but UML is stronger here as evidenced by the vote tally in the last local election and the result in our field reporting even this time.
But the bigger worry for UML is will Sthapit be able to build an insurmountable lead that Shakya built five years ago.
Raju Raj Joshi of NC, who lost to Shakya by almost 20,000 votes, told Setopati that Shakya had built a lead of 12,000 votes from the core. UML lawmaker Rambir Manandhar alo corroborated that Shakya had secured 12,000 more votes from the area than Joshi.
Joshi (around 45,000) had received far fewer votes than the grand old party's victorious candidate for deputy mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi (around 58,000) precisely because he performed so poorly in the core.
Our field reporting shows Singh will receive more votes from the core than Joshi did. Ninteen of the 200 respondents said that they had voted for Shakya last time but will vote for Singh this time. There were only two who said they had voted for Joshi and will vote for Sthapit this time.
Not all of the 19 swing voters are traditional UML voters though. Some of them said they are NC voters who had voted for Shakya in the last election.
Supporters of CPN (Maoist Center) and CPN (Unified Socialist), formed after split of UML, will also vote for Singh but the two parties do not seem to have much hold in the core. We found only one voter each from the two parties and both of them pledged to vote for Singh.
The final lead of Sthapit over Singh in the core will be determined by the voters who have yet to decide about who to vote for and will be known only after the ballot boxes are opened and counted.
Twenty-four of the respondents told Setopati that they are undecided. Fourteen of them said they had voted for Shakya, seven for Joshi, and three to separate candidates of Bibeksheel (Ranju Darshana) and Sajha (Kishore Thapa) in the last local election.
Singer Balen Shah looks set to get significant number of votes from the core. Twenty-six of the 36 respondents who said that they will vote for him said they had voted for Shakya in the last local election, five said they had voted for Joshi and the remaining five for the two separate candidates of Bibeksheel and Sajha.
The fact that more of the voters who said they will vote for Shah had voted for Shakya five years ago is important because 70 percent of those who voted for Bibeksheel and 60 percent for Sajha in the last election were traditional NC voters, as per our exit poll done in the last local election.
Kathmandu's yearning for a change from the traditional two big parties was evident in the last local election with Darshana and Thapa together securing around 43,000 votes (27 percent). Our field reporting shows Shah can improve on the 5,000 each votes secured from the core by Darshana and Thapa.
The attraction toward Shah this time looks set to cost Bibeksheel Sajha dear this time with just two respondents saying they will vote for the party's candidate Baskota.
Another difference between the young candidates—Darshana in the last election and Shah now—is that while Darshana was equally popular among all age groups Shah seems to attract mostly young voters.
Another independent candidate Sayami also looks set to get some votes from the core mostly from those who had voted for Shakya in the last local election.
He is son of popular communist leader from Kalimati Jeevan Ram Manandhar, and has been raising the issue of those who have lost parts of the land and houses during the road expansion in the city and demands that Newa be made the language for office works in Kathmandu. And he is likely to attract most of his votes from those who would otherwise have voted for UML.
Sthapit, in this manner, has reasons to worry despite looking set to get more votes than Singh from the core. He looks unlikely to repeat the performance of Shakya and Singh will bring back traditional NC voters who had voted for Shakya. Shah and Sayami will also get more votes from UML than NC.
Another factor that may work against Sthapit is the UML-RPP alliance that is not in existence now. RPP had supported Shakya for mayor in the last election fielding candidate for deputy mayor with support from UML. Our field reporting shows Shrestha will get around 7.5 percent of votes from the core.
UML candidate for deputy mayor Sunita Dangol seems far stronger than Sthapit in the core. She will get almost all the votes that Sthapit will get, and many of the respondents who said that they will vote for Singh and Shah also said they will vote for Dangol.
NC has not fielded candidate for deputy mayor and has supported coalition candidate from CPN (Unified Socialist) Rameshwore Shrestha while Shah is contesting on his own and does not have any team contesting for deputy mayor and ward chairs.