Kathmandu, April 3
As the government prepared to give final touches to the local bodies’ restructuring committee report, Nepali Congress leaders from Kaski were happy that Pokhara Lekhnath Metropolitan City has become the largest metro in the country, but they have been equally anxious about the addition of neighbouring ‘UML-dominated’ villages to the city.
They fear that Pokhara, which has historically voted for Nepali Congress, could swing towards the UML during the civic elections next month.
Now, the Pokhara Metropolitan City includes areas previously under Pokhara and Lekhanath municipalties and Rangkot, Purunchaur, Lamachaur, Bhadaure, Chapakot, Kaskikot, Armala, Mauja, Kahun, Bharatpokhari, Nirmalpokhari and Bhalam VDCs.
Winning the mayor race in the largest metro in the country is a matter of pride for any political party. The party that wins in Pokhara will send a message to the opponents that it means business in the upcoming provincial- and central-level elections. That is why the top political parties want to field the strongest of their candidates in Pokhara.
Aspirants for the position believe that the Mayor of Pokhara’s will be more powerful than provincial or central-level lawmakers as the metropolis spans four constituencies of the district. Current MPs and their rivals during the 2013 CA elections are all gearing up for the contest.
According to reports the UML and NC are likely to back MPs Rabindra Adhikari and Yagya Bahadur Thapa respectively as their candidate. However, party insiders say both the parties are unlikely to pick the lawmakers for the metropolis as both parties are struggling with the issue of ‘leader management’.
Herd of aspirants in NC
There are at least six leaders in the NC aspiring to become mayor. Among them, former lawmaker Mahadev Gurung and immediate past president of the Pokhara Chambers of Commerce and Industry Bindu Kumar Thapa are said to be the strongest ones.
NC Kaski president Krishna KC, former ward chairperson Bijendra Narayan Bijukchhe, Ashok Palikhe and Devraj Chalise are other aspirants. Former Secretary Baburam Acharya has also expressed his desire for the position and begun mobilising his cadres for the same.
Mahadev Gurung is most likely to get the ticket as the Gurung population is dominant in the city. However, he resides mostly in the capital, and hence, that may tip the balance away from him this time. Bindu Kumar Thapa is also a popular face.
Former Pokhara mayor Krishna Thapa is one of the strongest contenders for the position from UML. Former UML Kaski chairman Man Bahadur GC and Youth Association Nepal central chair Rajeev Pahari are other aspirants. Thapa had won the 1997 local polls to be elected the Pokhara mayor, but he lost to NC’s Sharada Paudel in Kaski-2 during the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections.
GC is from Lekhanath. He was also defeated by NC’s Yagya Bahadur Thapa in the 2013 CA polls. Youth leader Pahari was once the Free Student Union president of the Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara.
The name of former dean at the Tribhuvan University-Institute of Engineering, Bharat Pahari, has also been floated as a likely candidate.
There are four names being floated from the Maoists’ side as strong contenders. They are former chair of the Pokhara City Development Committee, Bishwa Prakash Lamichhane; former chair of the Cricket Association of Nepal, Deepak Koirala; chairman of the Tamu Mukti Morcha, Bakhan Singh Gurung; and the party’s Politburo member Jhalak Pani Tiwari.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Federal Socialist Forum are also significant players in Pokhara politics, but they are yet to reveal the names of mayoral candidates. While influential RPP leader Surya Bahadur KC quit the party, other aspirants are not in the scene yet.
What does history suggest?
NC had won the 1992 local polls in Pokhara whereas UML had emerged victorious after five years in both Pokhara and Lekhanath. Most of the VDCs merged with Pokhara now are also considered UML strongholds. Pokhara Metropolitan City covers all constituencies of Kaski district. The NC and UML had shared two seats each during the 2013 CA polls whereas Maoists had won three seats in the 2008 elections when the UML was restricted to one.
It is most likely that the mayoral fight will be between NC and UML, though the Maoists seem to be improving their strength.