The bye- elections are scheduled for June 29

Opposition Leader (OL) Dorji Wangdi has proposed to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering that the two party presidents do not campaign in the bye-elections in Mongar and Nganglam in view of the Covid-19 situation and the summer session of Parliament.

It would be highly “irresponsible and reckless” for the party presidents to engage in political campaigns during the pandemic, endangering public health, according to the Opposition Party. 

Dorji Wangdi, who is also the DPT president said, “The DPT camp strongly suggests that the two presidents forgo campaigns in both the constituencies as that public interests should come before party interests.”

The DPT president said that given the grave pandemic situation, the bye-elections should be conducted in a low-key manner with strict Covid-19 protocols. He said that the parties should let the candidates contest as election commission manages the bye-election and oversee the candidates. 

DNT’s general secretary, Phurba, said that lyonchhen had not decided whether or not to campaign as the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) president.

He said that as much the party president would like to travel to the constituencies for campaigning, he was mindful of the national priorities, including the upcoming Parliament session. The election commission, he said, had advised the parties to discuss how they would campaign amid the pandemic.

It was learnt that DNT members are insisting the party president to visit the constituencies to campaign. Gatherings of up to 25 people are permissible as per the Covid-19 protocol.

According to sources, the prime minister was not only mindful of the worsening Covid-19 situation, but also did not want to miss the summer session of Parliament.

The session will open on May 27 and end on June 30. The campaign will begin on May 25 and end on June 27.

Opposition members claimed that the party had decided to forgo the party president’s campaigns although both of their candidates were young and new to politics.

The bye-election is the fourth National Assembly elections for DNT’s candidate for Mongar, Karma Lhamo. The party’s candidate for Nganglam in Pemagatshel, Karma Dorji, is contesting for the second time.

The prime minister travelled to Chokhor-Thang constituency twice in Bumthang in October last year to campaign for MP Dawa, who won the bye-election.

Should they decide to campaign, the prime minister and the opposition leader will miss a significant portion of discussions in Parliament.

The party presidents will have to spend seven days in a quarantine facility coming back from Nganglam, which falls under the high-risk zone. However, some observers said that the party presidents could skip Nganglam and visit Mongar.

If a minister takes leave of absence from a session, one of the Cabinet members, on behalf of the absent minister, can respond to questions raised in the House, according to the National Assembly Act. However, the Act does not mention as to who would respond to questions raised in respect of that the prime minister’s portfolio.

A political observer said that he was hopeful that both the prime minister and the opposition leader would avoid campaigning this time. He said that the election commission should take the responsibility if Covid-19 breaks out due to gathering of people.

“In the capacity of prime minister and opposition leader, it is morally incorrect for them to take the manifestation of party presidents for a month,” he said.

At the launch of the candidates in Thimphu on May 19, Prime Minister said that as much as the election was important, the party would be mindful of the Covid-19 norms.

Party members believe that the party president’s visits to the constituency could boost the chances of candidates. Some even believe that the Ruling Party’s candidates enjoy some advantage over the Opposition Party candidates.

The DNT president said that the candidate would make a difference in the constituencies through the “ruling party platform”.

The bye-election will be held on June 29. The Election Act provides for postponement of a bye-election if it cannot be held within the given time. The two dzongkhags have not reported any Covid-19 cases

By MB Subba