Political dynamics shifts in Ilam-2 by-poll

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By Prem Adhikari,Pashupatinagar, Apr. 21: Amidst the fervour of the upcoming by-election slated for April 27, Sumitra, a businesswoman from Mangalbare Ilam, finds herself busy reciprocating namaste greetings to the election candidates.

Candidates and central party leaders are visiting her shop to personally greet her and request for votes.

Sumitra remarks, “Even those who previously didn’t acknowledge my greetings are now extending their greetings to ask for my vote.”

Despite their greetings, Sumitra is firm in her decision about whom she will vote for this time.

“We’ve been observing things for a while now, and what matters most is the development of this area. Everyone is aware about the changes that have occurred here,” Sumitra commented.

Currently, all political parties and independent candidates are conducting electoral campaigns accompanied by loud music.

The main markets of Ilam Constituency-2, particularly Ilam Bazaar and Mangalbare are the primary 

focus of electoral campaigns for both political parties and independent candidates.

In this by-election, candidates in Ilam are seeking votes in a unique way by composing individual songs for each candidate, which are being played during their electoral campaigns.

As soon as the songs started playing, the voters know in advance which party’s or independent candidate has arrived, allowing them to respond to the candidates accordingly.

N.B. Lawati from Chulachuli-3 of Ilam highlights that the approach of seeking votes has shifted during this by-election.

Even the old parties have adapted to new approach to seeking votes by taking cues from the newer ones. 

“Candidates from the older parties aren’t just promising development initiatives, instead they have  expressed their commitment to addressing the specific needs of the area,” he added. 

Voters in the area are becoming smarter. They have been leading every candidate to believe they’ll earn their vote, but now they’ve made up their minds about whom to vote.

Suman Karki, a voter from Ilam Gajurmukhi, reveals that despite knowing whom he’ll vote for, he assures every candidate, who visits his house that his vote will be secured.

“Votes aren’t something you can just get by asking for once. Candidates need to win hearts. But Ilam Constituency-2 needs a change now,” remarked Karki.

Not just Karki, but the majority of voters in Ilam Constituency-2 are assuring every candidate who visits their homes that their vote belongs exclusively to them.

Unlike previous elections in Ilam 2, which typically featured a two-sided competition between CPN-UML and Nepali Congress, this election is witnessing tough competition among CPN-UML, Nepali Congress, Rashtriya Swatantra Party, and identity campaigners.

This time, the election in Ilam is notably different. All parties and candidates are conducting digital electoral campaigns.

There haven’t been any large, extravagant public gatherings like in previous elections. Neither are the political parties engaged in insulting each other like in previous elections.

Umesh Gurung, secretary of CPN-UML Ilam, noted that this time the electoral campaigning was entirely different.

In his opinion, the approach to electoral campaigns has undergone a complete transformation. 

He said, “Digital campaigning has made the electoral process easier, but notably, this time I haven't heard any candidate making promises about development initiatives such as building roads or bridges.”

UML chairman KP Sharma Oli also visited Ilam to seek votes for the party candidate. UML leader Shivamaya Tumbahamphe has been assigned the role of UML's deputy election commander.

The Ilam-2 House of Representatives seat has remained vacant since the demise of former speaker and Constituent Assembly chairman Subas Nembang last year. 

The UML has fielded Suhang Nembang, son of Subas for the by-poll in the constituency. 

Purna Gautam, district secretary of Nepali Congress, mentions that this time the party is prioritizing securing its own votes rather than engaging in insults towards others.

Gautam said that there is no blame game this time and this is a positive aspect of the election.

Nepali Congress General Secretaries Bishwa Prakash Sharma and Gagan Thapa are now busy in the electoral campaign in Ilam-2. Sharma has been assigned the role of the party election commander. 

The NC has again fielded Dambar Bahadur Khadka in the constituency. 

In the November 2022 poll, Nembang had defeated his closet contender Khadka by 1,014 votes. 

Khadka is known in the district for his social service work along with politics.

On the other hand, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), which is emerging as a new force in the by-elections of Ilam-2, and the ethnic identity claimant group that has put forward an independent candidate, are both striving to attract voters in different ways. 

They have been seeking votes by dancing and singing.

Ramesh Prasai, joint-spokesperson of RSP, sings songs and dances during the electoral campaign. And the voters also join him in singing and dancing. In addition, crowds gather solely to see Prasai.

Along with him, party president and Minister for Home Affairs Rabi Lamichhane and leaders Tosima Karki, Sumana Shrestha, Sovita Gautam, and others are also taking turns to ask for votes.

RSP is employing a unique door-to-door campaign compared to other parties. Leaders and cadres from across the country are arriving in the constituency to seek votes.

RSP has been raising issues of physical infrastructure, healthcare, education, and agriculture in Ilam-2, emphasizing that the old parties have neglected development in these areas for years. RSP has fielded journalist Milan Limbu for the election.

The election campaign of Dakendra Singh Thegim, who spearheaded the campaign for identity-based naming of Koshi Province, is particularly fascinating. 

His son Eak Dev and daughter Sunita are both singers. When Sunita starts singing in her father’s programme, a large crowd of people gathers and starts dancing.

Thegim has been prioritising the issue of ethnic identity in his campaign. A team of artists, including Thegim's son and daughter, has been seeking votes by raising identity issues through songs.

Thegim has been supported by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Swagat Nepal, Yug Pathak and KP Palungwa, among others. He is a former teacher and social worker.

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