Yangyel Lhaden

Guma Primary School, Khebisa, Dagana. It is 10am, December 21. About 50 people are seated in the school’s meeting hall, awaiting the commencement of the common forum.

Jamyang Yangchen, 26, and her friends are running a bit behind schedule as they had to walk for about an hour to reach the common forum venue. They contact the tshogpa to come to pick them up.

“We will pay for the ride,” says one of them.

Dawa Zam, 50, from Khebisa, walked for over two hours to reach the venue. Many others also covered long distances on foot which causing a slight delay in starting the meeting. However, as most participants finally arrive, the common forum is set to begin.

Seated are the two candidates from the People’s Democratic Party and Bhutan Tendrel Party, accompanied by a Returning Officer (RO), a bell officer, and police officials ensuring order. Today marks the concluding day of the common forum for Khebisa gewog under the Drukjeygang-Tseza constituency.

RO Karma Sonam Chophel kicks off the session by briefing about the election rules and regulations. A baby’s cries momentarily disrupt the proceedings. A young man volunteers to help the nervous mother and takes the baby outside.

Karma Sonam Chophel acknowledges the attendees, emphasising the forum’s importance in the electoral process. “The common forum is crucial as you are going to elect the government and opposition,” he says.

He urges the audience not to clap or show gestures during the candidate’s speeches and emphasises the time allocated to each candidate: 30 minutes in total, with 20 minutes in Dzongkha and 10 minutes in other dialects.

Nima Tshering, 54, from Bhutan Tendrel Party, begins first. He has a Master’s degree in Environment and Resource Management and served in civil service as Dzongkhag Forestry Officer in Dagana, Lhuentse, and Chukha, and later joined the private sector as a business manager.

A candidate from PDP exits before Nima Tshering begins.

Nima Tshering starts by thanking the people for voting for BTP before speaking about his party’s manifesto.” We plan to make Bhutan a corruption-free society and make services more accessible.”

Having done his bit within the stipulated time frame, Nima Tshering walks out of the hall before PDP’s Sonam Dorji enters.

Sonam Dorji, a two-time National Council member, acknowledges the unexpected support during the primary election and expresses gratitude. The audience remains attentive, not displaying any expressions throughout both candidates’ speeches.

In the crowd is Race Bdr Rai, a 40-year-old with blindness, guided by his nephew. Race explains his presence, stating, “Although most manifestos are for the general audience and not for persons with disabilities like me, I choose to vote for the greater well-being of all Bhutanese people.”  

Karma Sonam Chophel concludes the session by briefing about poll day rules, emphasising the importance of carrying the citizenship identity card and ensuring its validity.

“Voter card in yellow is accepted, the voting will begin from 8:00 am till 4:00 pm, please come on time, and do not carry weapons and under the influence of alcohol,” he says.

The meeting concludes after about one and a half hours, and attendees disperse.

Jamyang Yangchen and her friends, equipped with a packed lunch, plan to enjoy a small picnic before heading home.