A significant proportion of voters in the House of Representatives (HoR) constituency of Kathmandu-1 seem to be undecided about who to vote for due to disenchantment with the major political parties with the day for voting just 10 days away.
Common coalition candidate from Nepali Congress (NC) Prakash Man Singh may still be reelected as the disenchanted votes seem to be almost equally divided among Pukar Bam of Rastriya Swatantra Party, Ramesh Kharel of Nepal Sushasan Party and Rabindra Mishra of RPP.
The constituency is the only one in Kathmandu district that is completely inside the Kathmandu Metropolitan City and includes ward numbers 10, 11, 29 and 31 at the heart of the capital. The constituency is geographically very small but includes very densely populated areas like Tripureshwore, Thapathali, Putali Sadak, Babar Mahal, Anam Nagar, Bijuli Bazar, New Baneshwore, Min Bhawan, Shanti Nagar, Bhimsengola and Mid Baneshwore.
NC is the strongest party in the constituency on the basis of votes received at the ward level in the recent local election but the main opposition CPN-UML was only 300 votes behind even as independent candidate Balen Shah was preferred for mayor. But UML's Kiran Paudel strangely does not seem to be in contention in the constituency that UML had left for Anil Sharma of CPN (Maoist Center) as part of the alliance with promise of post-election unification in 2017.
Setopati reached almost all the places in the constituency and talked with a total of 229 voters about the upcoming election, their preferred parties/candidates, the reasons for their preference, and the most important issues for them among other things.
A whopping 76 (33%) of them said they that they had yet to decide who to vote for. The number of undecided voters is larger than that who pledged to vote for any of the multiple candidates.
The largest number of voters who have decided who to vote for said they would vote for NC's Singh. A total of 51 (22%) voters said that they would vote for the three-time incumbent from the constituency. Thirty (13%) said that they would vote for Mishra who had lost to Singh in 2017 by just 819 votes, 30 said that they would vote for social activist Bam, 22 (10%) for former Nepal Police AIG Kharel and 16 (7%) for UML's Paudel. Setopati found only one voter who pledged to vote for advocate Bal Krishna Neupane.
When Setopati reached the constituency to talk with voters before the election in 2017, Mishra had slightly edged Singh as the preferred candidate even though he eventually went on to lose the election by a wafer-thin margin.
But he no longer seems to command that attraction. Some of those who voted for him in 2017 said that they would vote for Bam or Kharel this time while four said they have yet to decide who to vote for.
He may well win some votes from NC and UML this time as well but he is not the hot cake that he was five years back and many seem to be aggrieved over his inability to lead Bibeksheel Sajha Party and his flight to an old party (RPP) just before the election having launched his political career campaigning for a new force.
NC's Singh looks set to get fewer votes than his party in the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system with 69 pledging to vote for the grand old party just like Paudel as 23 pledged to vote for UML in the PR system.
UML's Paudel seems to suffer more than NC's Singh in this regard though as we found four disenchanted UML voters who said they would not even go to vote this time.
Bam seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the disenchantment as more than half of the 30 voters who pledged to vote for him had voted for NC and UML in the past.
Kharel also looks to get significant number of votes owing to his impeccable image of an incorruptible police officer in the past.
The large proportion of undecided voters will decide the outcome but Singh may ultimately emerge the winner as he seems to be holding on to more voters from 2017 than Mishra seems to be holding, and the voters disenchanted with NC and UML do not seem to be polarizing around a single candidate, and are almost equally divided among Bam, Kharel and Mishra.
(Joint reporting by Shova Sharma, Manika Bishwakarma, Susan Chaudhary, Nirmala Ghimire, Unique Shrestha, Sabina Shrestha and Sabina Karki)