Independent candidate Balen Shah looks set to be elected mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City in the local election held on Friday.
This will be the first time that an independent candidate will be elected Kathmandu mayor beating big established parties.
Setopati was in regular contact with voters from all 32 wards of Kathmandu in the past week.
Setopati had talked with 200 voters from the core of Kathmandu including 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.
Shah was third while Keshav Sthapit of CPN-UML just edged Sirjana Singh of Nepali Congress (NC) in our first round of field reporting in the core of Kathmandu that constitutes whole or part of ward numbers 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 of Kathmandu and has around 80,000 voters.
We talked with another 330 voters from the remaining 20 wards at places including Naxal, Handigaun, Balwuatar, Maharajgunj, Lajimpat, Samakhusi, Balaju, Naya Bazar, Sohra Khutte, Swoyambhu, Kalimati, Bafal, Ravi Bhavan, Kalanki, Kuleswhore, Baneshwore, Shantinagar, Koteshwore, Narephant, Bouddha, Mahankal, Kumarigal, Gaurighat, Chabahil, Pashupati area and others in the second stage.
Shah was the first preference for voters in these areas outside the core dominated by the Newars. This area outside the core dominated by Shah has around 220,000 voters.
We reached all the wards and almost all the 156 polling booths in Kathmandu on Friday to try to find out why Shah is liked so much and whether the attraction seen during our field reporting last week will continue till the day of voting.
Setopati team talked with 1,350 voters outside the polling booths after they cast their vote today trying to balance the genders, age group and even ethnicity.
Our conversation with the voters today has proved that our initial field reporting in the last week was not off the mark.
A whopping 570 (42 percent) of the 1,350 voters we talked with said that they voted for Shah. Similarly, 350 (26 percent) said that they voted for NC's Singh while 335 (25 percent) said that they voted for UML's Sthapit.
Our analysis shows that none of the other candidates for mayor will get the necessary 10 percent votes to get a refund of their deposits.
Fifty-nine (4 percent) said that they voted for another independent candidate Suman Sayami. He looks set to finish fourth. Twenty-nine (2 percent) said that they voted for RPP candidate Madan Das Shrestha while seven (0.05 percent) said that they voted for Samikshya Baskota of Bibeksheel Sajha Party.
Around one-third of the voters we tried to talk either didn't want to talk to us or reveal who they voted for. Those who said that they voted for Shah all readily revealed their choice while most of those who said they voted for Singh and Sthapit revealed their choice only after some persuasion. This shows that there is a higher chance of those who refused to speak to us or reveal their choice voting for Singh or Sthapit than Shah.
A few voters who said that they voted for Shah told us that they mistakenly again voted for another mayoral candidate while voting for ward members. Some of the people in Shah's team also told Setopati that a few of the votes Shah received may be invalid.
But Shah has such a large lead over other candidates among the 1,350 voters who revealed their choice that we don't believe that the probable reduction of margin by Singh and Sthapit among around 650 voters who refused to reveal their votes and the invalid votes received by Shah would be big enough to deny Shah a historic victory.
Our conversation with voters today showed that Shah has got votes even in the core of Kathmandu where Bidya Sundar Shakya had built a lead of over 12,000 over NC's Raju Raj Joshi in the last local election. UML's Sthapit is first in the core and Singh and Shah are competing for the second spot but Sthapit's lead over Singh and Shah does not seem to be as big as Shakya's over Joshi.
Our conversation with voters today and field reporting last week both showed that Singh and Shah got some of the votes that Shakya had received in the core in the last election.
Eight-five of the 242 voters from the core said that they voted for Sthapit while 56 said they voted for Shah and 54 for Singh. Forty-three voters from the core said that they voted for another independent candidate Sayami while three for RPP's Shrestha and one for others.
Shah is ahead by a big margin in the rest of the capital city and Singh is second there. Sthapit is far behind at third.
The main reason the voters gave for opting to vote for Shah is frustration with the big two parties UML and NC.
Shah has earned the most votes from those who had voted for Shakya in the last election. This is understandable as the separate candidates of Bibeksheel and Sajha had received most of their votes from traditional NC voters in the last local election putting the grand old party at an already lower base this time.
Two hundred and seven (36 percent) of the 570 voters who said that they voted for Shah said that they had voted for UML in the last local election. Similarly, 120 (21 percent) said that they had voted for NC and 65 (11 percent) said they had voted for Ranju Darshana of Bibeksheel and Kishore Thapa of Sajha.
Shah also seems to be the most popular choice of the young voters voting for the first time. We found around 100 first-timers and 66 of them said that they voted for Shah.
We also found many parents who said that they voted for Shah under persuasion of their kids. We also found a few traditional voters of NC and UML, who have voted for their respective parties in all the elections since the restoration of democracy in 1990, but have voted for Shah this time due to frustration and disappointemtn with their respective parties.
A woman from ward number 32 who voted at Pepsicola told Setopati that her family has always voted for NC. "We are from Nuwakot. We have always voted for NC. All six members of our family have voted for Shah this time. We didn't vote for any positions apart from mayor," she revealed.
UML that had won by a big margin the last time seems set to lose the largest share of votes. Sthapit has bled votes not just to Shah but even Singh seems to have won back the NC voters from the core who had voted for Shakya in the last election.
Sixty of the 350 voters who said they have voted for Singh today said that they had voted for Shakya in the last local election. We found very few voters who said they had voted for NC in the last local election and voted for Sthapit today.
NC and UML also seem to have failed to attract new voters. A very small proportion of the first-time voters said that they voted for the two big parties. Similarly, NC and UML have also not succeeded in winning back the votes they had lost to Bibeksheel and Sajha in the last election and most of those voters said that they voted for Shah today.
The two big parties, in this manner, are trailing Shah as many traditional voters have been frustrated with them while they have also failed to attract new voters.
Kathmandu's yearning for a change from the traditional two big parties was evident in the last local election with Ranju Darshana of Bibeksheel and Kishore Thapa of Sajha together securing around 43,000 votes (27 percent).
But their frustration seems to have grown further in the intervening five years and they have all voted for Shah. The message of this election, in this way, is not just their yearning for change due to frustration over the big parties but also their trust and confidence in Shah.