RPP’s Rajendra Lingden seems to be leaking the votes he received in 2017 while common coalition candidate from Nepali Congress (NC) Krishna Prasad Sitaula seems to be improving on his dismal performance five years back in the race for House of Representatives (HoR) constituency of Jhapa-3.
The constituency includes ward numbers 1-8 of Bhadrapur Municipality—that includes the district headquarters, ward number 10 of Birtamode Municipality, Kachankaval, Barhadashi and Haldibari rural municipalities.
NC is the strongest party in the constituency based on the result in the recent local election receiving 21,735 votes at the ward level. The main opposition CPN-UML received 17,006, RPP 16927 and CPN (Maoist Center)—that is in the ruling coalition led by NC—4,835.
Setopati reached almost all the places in the constituency and talked with a total of 251 voters about the upcoming election, their preferred parties/candidates, the reasons for their preference, and the most important issues for them among other things.
Ninety-five (almost 38%) of them said that they would vote for NC’s Sitaula, 84 (around 33.5%) said that they would vote for Lingden while 50 (almost 20%) said that they had yet to decide who they would vote for or refused to reveal their choice.
Twelve (almost 5%) said that they would vote on bell of Rastriya Swatantra Party led by Rabi Lamichhane, and those pledging to vote for Yogendra Prasad Khanal of Hamro Nepali Party and rebel candidate of UML Dambar Bahadur Giri added up to 10 (almost 4%).
Lingden, who was supported by the left alliance of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) that had allied with promise of post-election unification in 2017, had defeated Sitaula by a very big margin in 2017. Lingden had received 44,614 votes—56.5 percent of 78,932 valid votes, while Sitaula had secured 31,171 (39.5%).
Sitaula had struggled against Gyanendra's autocratic rule as the chief associate of the then NC president Girija Prasad Koirala and was Koirala's right hand in bringing the Maoists, UML and other parties together against the king by taking India into confidence. He had played an important role in signing of the 12-point agreement.
The Janaandolan II started for restoration of democracy in Nepal stepping on that very 12-point agreement and the then king eventually had to bow down to the people. The parties that were in favor of republicanism got an overwhelming majority in the first Constituent Assembly (CA) Election in 2008. RPP-Nepal that supported monarchy did not win any constituency in the first past the post (FPTP) system and won just four seats in proportional representation (PR) system.
The CA passed the motion for republicanism tabled by the then home minister Sitaula in the first meeting. Gyanendra had to leave Narayanhiti Palace for implementation of republic in a way visible to the people. Sitaula went to the palace to meet Gyanendra as the government's representative to deliver that message and Gyanendra left the palace without any resistance the very next day.
Lingden, who was in the student wing of the Panchayat regime when Sitaula fought for restoration of democracy as a district level NC leader in 1990 and a central leader of RPP-Nepal led by Kamal Thapa at the time of First CA Election in 2008, exacted revenge on Sitaula in 2017 ironically with support of UML and Maoist Center that had fought together with NC for ending monarchy.
Lingden now is Chairman of monarchist RPP having defeated Kamal Thapa in the general convention with support of Gyanendra thereby forcing Thapa to form another party. He still seems to be the man to beat with UML again supporting Lingden as part of electoral alliance in a few constituencies.
But he does not look likely to win by a similar margin this time and may even lose as he is leaking votes while Sitaula seems to be attracting additional voters.
There seem to be three major reasons for that. The first is the change of electoral alliance. Lingden also had support of Maoist Center, that had allied with UML with promise of post-election unification, in 2017. But Maoist Center is now part of the ruling coalition led by NC.
The split of UML to form CPN (Unified Socialist)—that is also in the ruling coalition—may not have affected much in the home district of UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli but UML itself is not the seemingly all-conquering party that looked set to rule the country for a long time after the impending unification with Maoist Center in 2017, and is loathed by many neutral voters for squandering such a strong mandate due to internal bickering in the then ruling CPN formed after unification with Maoist Center.
The second is simmering grievances within some UML cadres and leaders who are aggrieved at the party not fielding any candidate and supporting monarchist RPP in the constituency for the second time in succession.
Oli has already addressed an election program in the constituency urging UML cadres to vote for Lingden for the sake of party’s prestige. But not all the UML cadres and voters seem to align their prestige with Lingden’s fate in the constituency.
Giri, who was elected vice-chairman of Haldibari Rural Municipality on a UML ticket five years back and recently lost the election for chairman of Haldibari to Lingden’s younger brother Rabindra Lingden, has fielded rebel candidacy after the party decided to support Lingden in the HoR election.
We found only four UML voters who had voted for Lingden in 2017 but said that they would vote for Giri this time. But this shows that Lingden may struggle to attract as many UML votes as he had won in 2017.
The third is the agenda for Hindu state and monarchy pursued by Lingden-led RPP. The constituency includes Muslim voters and a few, who had voted for Lingden in 2017 said they would not vote for him this time fearing that the aggressive Hindu agenda pursued by Lingden may transform Nepal into an intolerant Hindu state hostile to Muslims as BJP has turned neighboring India into.
Setopati, however, also found a Muslim voter who had voted for Lingden five years back and pledged to vote again for him pointing that Nepal was a tolerant Hindu kingdom even in the past.
Lingden, should hold on to as many UML voters in the constituency as possible, as RPP is the third largest party in the constituency. Sitaula, similarly, cannot win with support of Maoist Center alone as Maoist Center is a distant fourth in the constituency and should be able to win as many voters who had voted for Lingden in 2017 as he can.
He seems to be doing exactly that and many voters who had voted for Lingden five years back have pledged to vote for Sitaula this time. But Setopati also found seven voters who said that they had voted for Sitaula in 2017 and would vote for Lingden this time while 14 said that they had voted for Sitaula the last time but had yet to decide who to vote for this time.
Sitaula, in this way, looks set to reduce the difference with Lingden this time but the main question is whether his improvement will be enough to pip Lingden.
The large proportion of undecided voters will decide whether Sitaula can continue his record of alternating victory and loss in parliamentary elections or Lingden will defeat Sitaula for the second consecutive time to make 76-year-old Sitaula, who may well be contesting his last election, to suffer successive defeats for the first time.