Independent candidate Balen Shah is gradually building a big lead in the election for mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City held on Friday.
He is consistently getting more votes than the combined tally of Keshav Sthapit of CPN-UML and Sirjana Singh of Nepali Congress (NC) in the past few hours, and the commoners have now started to hope that Shah may actually be elected mayor.
But leaders of the two big parties are still saying that one cannot reach conclusion so soon. Sthapit claims that he will win the election and Shah will finish third behind Singh. “You can write this down ‘It’s me who will win. Don’t doubt on that. Balen is (sic) third,’” Sthapit told Setopati Sunday night.
He claimed that both he and Singh will get more votes as counting starts in the core of Kathmandu.
The incumbent Deputy Mayor and NC leader Hari Prabha Khadgi also warns that one should not jump to conclusion so soon.
“More than 180,000 votes are yet to be counted. We have just counted 5,000-6,000 votes. One cannot say what will happen now,”Khadgi told Setopati on Sunday.
She claimed that Singh will get more votes later. “The effect will be seen from ward numbers 14, 15, 16 and 18.”
She argued that one cannot say definitively about the final result until vote counting reaches the core with dense Newar settlements.
Counting has been completed or currently continues in eight wards including 1-6, and 31 and 32.
Setopati had projected that Shah will be elected Kathmandu mayor just a couple of hours after voting was completed on Friday and over 12 hours before counting even started.
The current vote tally is in line with the projection we had made, and we can confidently say that he will continue to lead even when counting in other wards are completed. He will, in fact, be elected mayor without ever trailing any candidate in overall tally from now onward.
Sthapit and Singh, no doubt, will get more votes than him in some pockets in the city but he will get more votes in most of the wards.
We projected that Shah will be elected mayor after conversation with over 1,350 voters who had just come out after voting, reaching almost all the polling booths in all 32 wards.
Sthapit seems to be hoping that he will win on the back of the votes he will get in 12 wards—from ward numbers 16-27.
NC also seems to be counting on the Newar settlements in the core. The grand old party believes that Singh will get more votes in ward numbers 14, 15, 16 and 18. It also hopes that she will get more votes in the pockets that are part of the federal constituency of her husband Prakash Man Singh and Gagan Thapa, both of whom won in the last general election.
Ward numbers 10, 11, 29 and 31 are part of the constituency of Prakash Man and ward numbers 1, 7, 8 and 30 are in the constituency of Thapa.
What the two big parties still do not seem to realize is that Shah is getting votes from their traditional voters and there is no meaning of the claim that they will win once counting starts in the pockets where they are traditionally strong.
UML candidates, for example, were elected chair in the last election in all eight wards where counting is being done or has been completed. But Shah has got more votes than the combined tally of Sthapit and Singh in these wards.
UML candidates have been elected chair in ward numbers 1 and 2 where counting has been completed even this time. But Sthapit has received only around half of the votes that Shah has bagged there.
UML and NC will not get significantly more votes than Shah even in the 12 wards of the core as they hope, and Shah is not as weak as they claim him to be there.
Sthapit, no doubt, will get the highest number of votes in some of the places in the core as even our field reporting and conversation with voters after they voted on Friday show.
Sthapit, for example, is strong in Mahabouddha, Ason, Jyatha, Kamalakshi, Tebahal, Itumbahal, Dhokatole, Machhindratole, Nyokha, Hanuman Dhoka, Basantapur, Ganabahal, Lagan and other areas. Our field reporting also shows that Sthapit will get the highest number of votes in these areas. But Shah will be competing with Singh for second spot even in these areas.
Similarly, Shah will compete with Singh for the first spot even if votes in Banasthali, Balaju Ring Road, Balaju Bypass, Taudol, Mhaipi, Naya Bazar, Sohrakhutte, Paknajol, Chhetrapati, Thamel, Thahiti, Dhobichaur, Dhalko, Nardevi, Raktakali, Tengal, Bhurukhya and other areas that are part of ward numbers 16, 17, 18, and 19 in the core are counted together. Shah may even lead Singh in these areas while Sthapit will finish a distant third.
The other fact to consider is there are around 80,000 voters in the 12 wards of the core. Around 50,000 votes may have been cast there if we assume that polling rate was around the 62 percent averaged in the whole of Kathmandu.
Shah will build a big lead over the two candidates in the areas outside the core where around 140,000 votes may have been cast. And he will not be too far behind the two candidates even in the core.
There is, therefore, little possibility of either Sthapit or Singh emerging victorious. “I will get double the votes than my closest competitor. Game is over!” Sthapit had declared to the media after filing his candidacy on April 24.
The game actually is already over in the race for Kathmandu mayor and Shah will be elected mayor.
Sthapit and Singh will have an intense fight to decide the runner-up.
Singh will win back many traditional NC voters who had voted for Bidya Sundar Shakya in the last local election. Around 17 percent of voters who have voted for Singh this time had voted for Shakya in the last election as per our field reporting on the voting day.
Sthapit, on the other hand, will suffer additional loss as Shah will get more votes from those who had voted for Shakya than those who had voted for NC candidate Raju Raj Joshi in the last election.