Will Renu Dahal be able to turn the tables on Devi Gyawali in Bharatpur?

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Repolling has been completed at three polling centers of Bharatpur-19 on Friday.

Repolling has been done in Bharatpur-19 after cadres of CPN (Maoist Center) tore ballots at midnight on May 19 while counting the votes cast on May 14. Maoist Center had torn the ballots expecting to win more votes in the Nepali Congress (NC) stronghold if reelection were held in the ward.

Will mayoral candidate of Maoist Center Renu Dahal be able to turn the result in her favor after today's reelection?

We met the voters and political leaders/cadres of Bharatpur-19 two days before the day of reelection, and talked with them to try to find the answer. We are writing this analysis on the basis of our meetings and interaction held over two days.

Let us look at the vote tally before the ballots were torn at midnight on May 29.

Mayoral candidate of CPN-UML Devi Gyawali had secured 40,980 votes and Dahal 40,116 when counting in 27 of the 29 wards of Bharatpur Metropolitan City was completed, which means Gyawali was leading by 864 votes.

Votes of wards 19 and 20 remained uncounted. Gyawali's lead had fallen to 734 votes when 1,800 out of the total of 2,897 cast in the ward were counted. Maoist Center had torn the ballots after seeing that Dahal will not be able to overcome that deficit after counting the remaining votes in ward number 19 and the votes of ward number 20.   

Dahal must get at least 865 more votes than Gyawali in ward numbers 19 and 20 after completion of today's reelection to win the election.

Will Dahal be able to cut that deficit this time or Gyawali increase the gap due to sympathy votes?

There is little chance of Gyawali getting sympathy votes, we can say from our interactions with the voters. Not a single voter that we talked to said 'we had voted for Dahal the last time around but will vote for Gyawali now.'

In other words, we did not find any voter who wanted to punish Dahal for tearing the ballots. So, there is little chance of Gyawali getting more votes this time apart from the UML supporters who could not vote the last time around.

The question now is will Dahal increase her votes. Dahal has set anchor at Bharatpur for the past two months. The majority of people did not know Dahal then. She had not made political investment in Chitwan even though she comes from the district. The voters had known Gyawali closely instead. He was elected deputy mayor of Bharatpur Municipality in 1997.

But Dahal now has reached every household in these two months. Her simple and easygoing personality is bound to have some impact on the voters.
Laxmi Tamang, a voter from Bharatpur-19, had not even seen Dahal before the election on May 14. But now she has seen Dahal dozens of times in her own courtyard, and listened to her many times.

"Many will now vote for her," Tamang told Setopati. "Nobody here knew her earlier. But she must have come here a hundred times by now," she added.

Both the mayoral candidates, no doubt, had focused on this ward for the two months trying to win over the voters. "Both the mayoral candidates have met all the voters by now. They may not remember the name of all the voters when they meet any voter from Bharatpur-19 later, but they will definitely feel that they must have seen the person somewhere," Jayram Lama, a voter from the ward says.

Such continuous meetings have definitely helped Dahal more than Gyawali, and she seems to have worked harder as well.

She has minutely identified the needs of the people. She has personally interacted with the voters who have bargained with her. She has also assured development in accordance to the needs of the people. This may not just win over NC voters who had not voted for her in anger, but also impact those who had voted for Gyawali then.  

Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had allocated a budget of around Rs 1.50 billion to Chitwan as part of a special package when he was the prime minister. A large chunk of the amount will be spent on construction of Chitwan Exhibition Center, Regional Stadium, and roads. His daughter Renu got the opportunity to deliver the message to every household in these two months.

Mayoral candidate Dahal, who remained here during the period, has attended the meeting of the majority of mothers' groups, and promised to help in some ways if she wins the election. She expects to gain some votes through that.

Our interaction with voters clearly show the hard work done by Dahal to win votes through the mothers' groups. Mina Ale of Gunjanagar was waiting for the decision of mothers' group on who to vote for when we talked with her. "We vote with hope for development of our locality. They say we have to vote for Renu Dahal this time. But it will depend on the decision that the mothers' group will take," she states.

Dahal has reached out to the mothers' groups in a planned manner. This will have some effect on the voters.  

The election will also be decided by how much her efforts will help her win the NC supporters who did not vote for her or the neutral voters.

Another important factor will be the degree of help by NC leaders, cadres and supporters for Dahal this time.

Analysis of the votes cast on May 14 also shows that some voters who had voted for NC candidate for ward chairman had not voted for Dahal in mayor.

NC ward chairman candidate for Bharatpur-19 Karna Bahadur Gurung  had received 818 votes out of the 1,800 that were counted before the ballots were torn, while UML candidate Prakash Tamang had received 655 votes and Maoist candidate Khadga Bahadur Gurung 135 votes.

The votes received by NC and Maoist candidates add up to 953 votes but Dahal had received just 792 votes out of the 1,800 counted. This shows that 161 voters who had voted either for NC or Maoist Center in ward chairman did not vote for Dahal.  

The number of votes secured by UML ward chairman candidate and Gyawali are almost identical. Gyawali had received 661 votes out of the 1,800 counted while ward chairman candidate Tamang had received 655.  

This shows that many voters who voted for NC in ward chairman did not vote either for Gyawali or Dahal. Whether those irate voters will vote for Dahal in today's reelection will be crucial.

The rage of NC leaders/cadres has largely subsided in the past two months. NC candidate for deputy mayor Parvati Shah says the anger of NC cadres for coalition with the Maoists has largely cooled. Maoist and NC leaders have worked hard to win over the irate NC voters.

"Our voters at first were reluctant for vote for the Maoists," Shah states. "It was not mere dissatisfaction over the alliance but rage. They had thrown away my name plate of president from the district office of our women's association here. The situation is different now," she adds.

She has reached the homes of NC voters with mayoral candidate Dahal, and adopted all the measures to win over the voters. "Dahal and myself have visited the homes together. We have visited almost all the homes, and met all the voters. They all are now ready to vote for her. My victory has almost become certain but they know that it will be difficult for me to work as a deputy mayor if we fail to get Dahal elected. They are ready to vote for her even for my sake," she claims.

Many NC cadres who did not vote for Dahal due to anger have now become 'disciplined'.

Mohan Gurung of Sharadanagar is an NC voter. He refused to clarify whether he voted for Gyawali or did not vote for any mayoral candidate on May 14. But he conceded that he did not vote for Dahal then. He is ready to vote for Dahal this time as per the instruction of the party he has faith on.  

"There is unanimity that Renu Dahal should be elected if we want development of Bharatpur," he states. "How can there be development if the mayor if from UML and everyone below him is from NC? I had not voted for Dahal earlier but I will vote for her this time," he adds.

The higher the number of voters like Gurung won over by Dahal and NC cadres, the better the chance for Dahal to get elected.
Ward No 19 is an NC stronghold. Former PM Sushil Koirala won the constituency for second Constituent Assembly (CA) election largely on the votes from this ward. Ramkrishna Ghimire from NC was elected in the by-election after Koirala vacated this seat out of the two he had won. Gurungs, Magars and Tamangs who migrated from Tanahu, Lamjung, Gorkha and Syangja make up the ward, and most of them are NC supporters.

Worried Maoist Center had torn the ballots after seeing that Dahal got just 792 votes and Gyawali received 661 votes when 1,800 votes were counted in the ward that is an NC bastion. How many of the voters who were angry with NC vote for Dahal this time, therefore, will be important for her prospects. We estimate that a few angry NC voters will vote for Dahal this time.

But it will not be so easy for Dahal to win the election even by getting those votes of angry NC supporters as they had not voted for Gyawali even earlier. She will have to win over the UML votes.

UML has publicized the incident of ballot tearing to retain its voters. It may not have been able to win over new voters but UML voters seem to be with Gyawali after the Maoists tore the ballots.

Nobody knows how many votes the two candidates have in ward number 20. Dahal will have to overcome the deficit with votes from ward number 20 if she fails to do so from ward number 19. She will be able to grab the post of mayor, that almost went to Gyawali the last time around, only if she manages to do that.    
 

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