CPN (Maoist Center) candidate for mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City Renu Dahal seems to just have her nose in front of her CPN-UML rival Bijay Kumar Subedi but undecided Nepali Congress (NC) voters hold the key to her fate.
Setopati reached all 29 wards of the city and talked with 242 voters ahead of voting scheduled for this Friday. Sixty-five (27 percent) of the respondents said that they will vote for incumbent mayor and common candidate of the ruling coalition Dahal.
Fifty-seven (23 percent) said that they will vote for joint candidate of UML and RPP Subedi while 23 (9 percent) said they will vote for rebel NC candidate Jagannath Paudel. We did not find any voter who pledged to vote for Praveen Kafle of Bibeksheel Sahja Party.
A whopping 97 said that they have yet to decide who to vote for and most of the undecided voters are NC supporters. These undecided voters will decide the winner in this metropolis.
Renu Dahal, daughter of Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was elected mayor in the last general election after NC's leadership in the last hour instructed the party's candidate Dinesh Koirala to withdraw his candidacy and support Renu in the election as part of deal between NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist supremo Dahal even though the parties did not ally for ward chairs and members.
She had controversially defeated Devi Parsad Gyawali of UML after Maoist cadres tore the ballots during vote counting when Dahal looked set to lose the election to force a reelection in a ward dominated by NC that helped her emerge victorious by a slender margin.
NC candidates for ward chair had received the highest number of votes in Bharatpur in the last local election at 39,199, followed by those of UML at 37,195, Maoist Center at 21,208 and RPP 5,820.
Dahal had emerged victorious with 43,127 votes finishing ahead of Gyawali (42,924). Badri Timalsina of RPP had sercured 6,842 votes.
All of these three candidates had received more votes than the combined total of their respective party's candidates for ward chair which shows that NC votes were divided among these candidates as the grand old party did not filed mayoral candidate. Dahal emerged victorious as she managed to get most of the NC votes despite around 7,000 voting on NC's election symbol tree even though the party had not fielded mayoral candidate.
Our field reporting shows that she will again get a significant number of NC votes. That the coalition has allied even at the ward level this time and not just for mayor and deputy mayor like five years ago, and NC has fielded candidates for chair of most of the wards should theoretically help her get more of the NC votes. But will that be enough to get her relected?
Most of the 23 respondents who said that they will vote for rebel NC candidate Paudel are over 50 years and eight of them revealed that they had voted on tree even in the last local election. Only three said that they had voted for Dahal in the last local election and will vote for Paudel now while others only said that they will vote for Paudel and did not reveal who they had voted for the last time around.
We found only three NC supporters who said that they will vote for UML candidate Subedi.
Twenty-two of the respondents who said that they will vote for Dahal said they are NC supporters. Thirty-one said they are Maoists while 12 said thay they are independent. Thirteen of those pledging to vote for Dahal are first-time voters.
Forty-five of the respondents who said that they will vote for Subedi are UML supporters and four are RPP. Two said that they had voted for Dahal the last time and will vote for Subedi now while three are NC supporters.
But this election seems to be all about Dahal. The combined mathematical strength of the coalition is so big that UML's candidacy is almost moot. It's either Dahal's victory or loss. She seems to have increased some votes due to her performance as mayor as some feel she has helped develop the city in the five years.
But the undecided NC voters will seal her fate. Paudel filed rebel candidacy representing the ire of NC cadres who fear they will have to keep sacrificing for the father-daughter duo—Renu for Bharatpur mayor, and her dad Pushpa Kamal for federal lawmaker. The recent remark of dad Dahal that the country will suffer an accident if the coalition does not vote for Renu while addressing a coalition rally in Bharatpur seems to have further stoked their ire.
UML is trying to capitalize on that ire of NC voters. Subedi's personality also seems to help UML in that. We found no one who criticized him personally and he may get some votes from outside UML and RPP.
It seems the undecided NC voters cannot get rebel candidate Paudel elected ahead of Dahal and Subedi. So, all of them voting for Paudel will not matter much if Dahal ultimately emerges victorious.
They will have to vote for UML candidate Subedi to stop Dahal to really make a difference and send a message to NC leadership that they cannot take the cadres for granted and expect them to vote for whoever they instruct.