Industrialist Binod Chaudhary of Nepali Congress (NC) appears to be the firm favorite to win the House of Representatives election from Nawalparasi West-1, while Rastriya Swatantra Party may present a strong challenge to Hridayesh Tripathi for the second place.
Chaudhary is contesting the first-past-the-post (FTTP) election for the first time after being elected to parliament twice through the proportional representation (PR) electoral system. On the other hand, Tripathi has been elected to parliament five times from the constituency over the past three decades. Tripathi won the elections in 1991, 1994, 1999, 2008 and 2017, his only defeat coming in 2013.
Chaudhary is supported by the ruling coalition. On the other hand, Tripathi – who formed Janata Pragatisheel Party just before the recent local level elections in May – has the backing of CPN-UML and Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP).
Setopati reached most wards of Susta, Pratappur and Sarawal rural municipalities and Bardaghat Municipality in the constituency and talked to 294 voters about the upcoming election, their preferred parties/candidates, the reasons for their preference, and the most important issues for them among other things.
Among them, 118 (40.13%) said they would vote for NC’s Chaudhary this time while 63 (21.43%) said they would vote for Tripathi. Forty-nine (16.67%) pledged to vote for Rabi Lamichhane-led Rastriya Swatantra Party and 15 for Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), while six others said they would vote for other parties.
Forty-three of the voters we met said they had yet to decide who to vote for. But Chaudhary would lead the race even if all those undecided votes went to Tripathi. In fact, Rastriya Swatantra Party looks likely to follow closely behind Tripathi.
We found that some voters in the constituency were not happy with Tripathi as they accused him of not doing anything for the constituency despite being elected to parliament and becoming minister multiple times over the past 30 years. Some voters said Chaudhary has also not done anything despite being elected lawmaker twice through the PR electoral system. But those who have opted to vote for Chaudhary portrayed him as a new candidate and have pinned their hopes on him as he has pledged to set up new industries and create jobs in the constituency.
Tripathi has also been telling voters that he also set up a chocolate factory, but voters have questioned why he did not establish any industry in all these years.
Eighty of the 118 voters who pledged to vote for Chaudhary are traditional NC voters, while 22 had voted for Tripathi in the past. Some traditional UML voters said they had voted for Tripathi in 2017 as he had contested with UML’s election symbol but they would vote for Chaudhary this time. Nine first-time voters also pledged to vote for Chaudhary. Similarly, two supporters each of Maoist Center and RPP and three of JSP also said they would vote for him.
This time the ruling coalition has also spread its sphere of influence to Pratappur area, where Tripathi’s home is located. Tripathi also has considerable influence in the area, with many praising him for his role in establishing schools with Indian assistance even when he was not in government.
Among the voters who have decided to vote for Tripathi this time because he had contested with UML’s election symbol five years back, it is difficult to tell how many are UML supporters and how many are from his party. UML wields a strong influence in Bardaghat area while Tripathi holds sway in Susta and Pratappur areas. Some NC voters also said they would vote for Tripathi this time.
Many NC supporters said they have decided to vote for Chaudhary despite their doubts about him.
Among the 63 voters who have decided to vote for Tripathi this time, 50 had voted for UML in the past, five for NC and one for Maoist Center. The remaining seven are first-time voters.
Rabi Lamichhane’s newly-formed Rastriya Swatantra Party also looks set for a good showing in the election with 49 pledging their vote for the party’s candidate Mahendra Singh Thakuri. Among them, 22 had voted for UML in the previous election and 19 had voted for NC. As UML has not fielded its candidate in the constituency, most of the UML votes appear likely to go to Rastriya Swatantra Party this time.
We also found attraction toward the new party among youths voting for the first time, youth and women who had voted for NC and UML in the past, and those who have returned from abroad. Eight first-time voters said they would vote for Lamichhane’s party.
Among the 15 pledging their votes for RPP, seven are traditional RPP voters while six had voted for UML and two for NC in the past.
Eighteen of the 43 undecided voters are UML supporters and 17 are NC supporters. Similarly, two each had previously voted for Maoist Center, Rastriya Janata Party and RPP in the past. Two others did not want to reveal who they had voted for in the last election.
Many of the voters we met opined that the silence period would determine which way votes would go in the constituency. They said parties have influenced many votes on the basis of ethnicity and also by organizing feasts. Some said voters have also been influenced by many of the municipality’s decisions.
NC looks the strongest force in the constituency based on the results of the recent local elections. Ruling coalition partners NC, Maoist Center and Unified Socialist secured 36,730 votes combined in the May elections, while UML and Tripathi’s party received 35,019 votes.
NC won in 20 of the 36 wards of the constituency with 30,242 votes, while UML won in only six wards securing 26,779 votes. RPP was the third-biggest force with 6,687 votes, followed by Maoist Center at 5,347 and Tripathi’s Janata Pragatisheel Party at 4,681. JSP received 3,559 votes while Unified Socialist got 1,141 votes.
In the 2017 elections, NC had secured 26,108 votes under the PR electoral system in the Nawalparasi West-1 constituency. UML had received 25,506 votes and Maoist Center had got 8,585. Similarly, RJP had received 12,305 votes, Federal Socialist Forum 5,067, and RPP 874.