Nepali Congress (NC) candidate for mayor of Biratnagar Metropolitan City Nagesh Koirala seems to be the front-runner in the contest that again looks to be triangular as in the last local election.
NC candidate Bhim Parajuli was elected mayor securing 23,031 votes ahead of Binod Dhakal (17,321) of CPN-UML, Umesh Yadav (14,958) of the then Federal Socialist Forum—Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) now—and Prahlad Prasad Sah (5,524) of RPP.
CPN (Maoist Center) had allied with Federal Socialist Forum and UML with Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) led by Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar, that has since merged with NC, in the last election. But NC candidates had comfortably beaten the two different coalitions and bagged the post of both the mayor and deputy mayor in Biratnagar that has traditionally been an NC stronghold.
The fact that Koirala is the common candidate of the ruling coalition that also includes Maoist Center and JSP, and UML is contesting on its own this time makes it a bit easier for Koirala despite Umesh Yadav quitting JSP and filing rebel candidacy for mayor as an independent in the city where NC alone had defeated two different coalitions five years back.
Setopati's interaction with 130 voters reaching all 19 wards of Biratnagar showed that Koirala is the favorite for mayor. Around 40 percent of the respondents said that they will vote for him while 16 percent said they will vote for UML candidate Sagar Thapa and nine percent for independent candidate Umesh Yadav.
NC seems to have held on to its traditional voters with most of the party supporters pointing that current Mayor Bhim Parajuli has not done anything bad even though he didn't perform exceptionally well.
Parajuli, Amrit Aryal and Dila Sangraula all lobbied to get the NC ticket for mayor this time but Koirala ultimately prevailed due to unflinching stance of Shekhar Koirala—who lost the runoff for NC president to Sher Bahadur Deuba in the last general convention—to get a preferred candidate in his home town.
The division of mayoral aspirants does not seem to have reached the level of voters and all the leaders apart from Parajuli are wholeheartedly campaigning for Nagesh Koriala now. Even Parajuli has been participating in a few formal programs.
Koirala, who has never been elected to any public office until now, is also helped by his personal image. Most of the voters, including those who have not voted for NC in the past, deem him to be too rich to indulge in corruption.
Koirala will also be helped by votes from the coalition partners.
The Shekhar Koirala faction was against alliance with coalition partners across the country and seemed confident to win both mayor and deputy mayor in Biratnagar fighting all alone. But Deuba prevailed and the grand old party ultimately opted for electoral alliance across the country and the ruling coalition agreed to share the six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities at the central level.
NC got to field candidate for mayor in Biratnagar giving deputy mayor to JSP but the Shekhar Koirala faction did not agree to take the alliance to the ward level in Biratnagar and NC candidates are contesting at the ward level on their own.
This has peeved the coalition partners a bit but they are still campaigning for common coalition candidate Koirala. Fourteen of the voters Setopati talked with said that they had voted for the joint candidate of Maoist Center and Federal Socialist Forum in the last local election. Seven of them said that they will vote for Koirala this time. This shows that he will still get some votes from the coalition partners on top of already good votes from the NC base.
UML leaders point that communist-supported people’s candidate had been elected chief of Biratnagar during the Panchayat regime, NC had won the first local election after restoration of democracy in 1990 after UML boycotted re-polling at some of the wards after polling was suspended at some of the polling stations, and UML had won the second local election, and claim that the last local election was the only one that NC won fairly in Biratnagar. They contend that UML is competitive in Biratnagar and will win even this time.
But our field reporting showed that is not the case.
While Nagesh Koirala looks very strong in the race for mayor, the coalition candidate for deputy mayor Amarendra Yadav seems to be in a difficult position. Yadav, who is son of JSP Chairman Upendra Yadav, will have the added challenge of having to win over the aggrieved voters of his own party on top of attracting the votes from coalition partners.
One-third of the respondents who said that they will vote for NC’s mayoral candidate Koirala said they have yet to decide about who to vote for deputy mayor. We found many who said they will vote for NC’s mayoral candidate but will vote for UML or RPP for deputy mayor showing that Yadav will struggle to attract all the coalition votes.
A few of those who said that they had voted for the then Federal Socialist Forum (now JSP) candidate Umesh Yadav in the last election told Setopati that they will not vote for Amarendra this time.
Local leaders of JSP like NC leaders had demanded that the party should not ally with NC in Biratnagar. They reasoned that the alliance of JSP, Maoist Center and Unified Socialist can win a triangular contest against NC and UML contesting on their own.
But JSP agreed to leave mayor of Biratnagar to NC in return for getting to field mayoral candidates in Birgunj and Janakpur. The fact that JCP Chairman Upendra Yadav decided to field his son Amarendra for deputy mayor further aggravated the grievances of local cadres.
Umesh Yadav, who had contested for mayor on ticket of the then Federal Socialist Forum in the last election, rebelled and filed candidacy for mayor as an independent candidate. Namita Neupane, who had finished second as the joint candidate of the Forum-Maoist alliance for deputy mayor in the last election, was also aggrieved at not getting the ticket and filed candidacy as an independent for deputy mayor.
They both have got lantern as election symbol and are campaigning jointly reviving their partnership of the last local election.
While this partnership may not cost Koirala much, Amarendra may well find himself in trouble.
Twenty-four percent of the respondents said that they have yet to decide about who they will vote for both mayor and deputy mayor. Who they will decide to vote for on the day of voting will be important and can influence the results.
But all the factors discussed above point that while coalition’s mayoral candidate Koirala may have an easy path to victory for mayor, Amarendra will not have such an easy path to deputy mayorship.