The otherwise naive and innocent-looking candidates of Mongar demkhong raised a lot of dust in a heated public debate on June 14 for the bye-election scheduled for June 28.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s candidate Karma Lhamo flashed numerous out-of-the-plan pledges such as accelerating feasibility studies for Pongchela airport, the establishment of a mother and child hospital and paved roads as her trump.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s candidate Dorji Youden maintained that the Covid-19 pandemic was here to stay for the remaining term of the government and that there is simply no money to fulfil those pledges.

Karma Lhamo confidently winded up: “Whether you want someone with experience, some who is committed to uplifting the communities or otherwise, it is in your hands.”

Dorji Youden hit back in equal measure that many pledges made so far were still not fulfilled and if elected, she would ensure that the government meets them. “The Opposition Party ensures checks and balances for the government to perform.”

Karma Lhamo said that residents cannot afford to be divided by politics and the task this time was not to choose a government.

Blacktopping Kilikhar to Labtsa farm road that connects Kilikhar and Drepong gewog, upgrading Chali Lower Secondary School to boarding middle secondary school, construction of a school hostel building in Tsakaling, and a bridge over Kurichhu at Dorjilung were the other pledges not included in the 12th Plan.

She also pledged to accelerate Pongchula international airport and Dorjilung hydropower project besides executing the 12 FYP.

Dorji Youden said she doesn’t want to make additional pledges in light of numerous pledges left unfulfilled by the government. She told voters not to get lured by the unrealistic pledges.

She said that the government had made three types of pledges: for 120 days, overall 12th Plan pledges and pledges for the bye-election. “But it has not met pledges like Sungjoen app, free Wifi, and maternity allowance for rural mothers. The pledges made during the earlier Chhoekhor-Tang bye-election in Bumthang were supposed to be achieved within three months; it’s been over eight months now.”

She said, “The constituents must analyse if it was really possible to achieve new pledges when the old ones were left unattended. Moreover, planning for 12 FYP is already done and budgeting for plan activities is already done.”

Karma Lhamo said all her pledges are doable as they were finalised in consultation with the head of the government and concerned ministers.  She said other pledges were delayed while fighting the pandemic. “Some pledges are fulfilled and others will too in the remaining term.”

Dorji Youden said when past candidates including ministers from the constituency were unable to fulfil the pledges, it is unlikely a simple MP could do it. “Again how long the pandemic would continue is uncertain and might last years and the government will have to engage in fighting the pandemic,” she said.

Dorji Youden told voters that electing her would send an additional youth to the Parliament to champion the cause of youth empowerment and inspire more youth to participate in politics.

Karma Lhamo said a stronger opposition MP will rather obstruct the government in making important timely decisions. “There’s barely two and half years to serve in the Parliament and hardly any time for learning.”

Dorji Youden said, “If I am elected with your support I will take it as an opportunity to learn and serve you.”

“Given her experience, it was expected of Karma Lhamo but not someone like Dorji Youden who is new to politics. But she did okay,” a voter from Drepong said.

Others said although they had heard of the pledges before the debate was engaging. “They raised much dust.”

“Karma Lhamo’s performance was alright and she was the usual nice lady. She seemed hesitant in hitting hard at the opponent,” another voter said.

By Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Edited by Tshering Palden