LG: Twenty-two polling officials and security personnel have left for Khelephu and Khashateng of Merak in Trashigang yesterday.

The officials, divided into two teams of 11 each, are expected to reach their polling stations by September 25. “We sent them earlier because these are the furthest chiwogs in Trashigang,” Radhi-Sakteng constituency returning officer, Choki Gyeltshen said.

Khashateng and Khelephu chiwogs, with 14 and 12 households respectively, are the furthest in the dzongkhag. Khelephu has 39 registered voters while Khashateng has 36. Most voters are women as most men there are tshampas (hermits). Only two men are eligible to vote in Khashateng.

Both Khashateng and Khelephu are officially a four-day walk from the Merak gewog centre.

The Election Commission is deploying officials via Jomtsangkha in Samdrupjongkhar for safety reasons. “They will be dropped until Woongthi in Lauri,” Choki Gyeltshen said. A bus will transport the polling officials from Trashigang until the road end at Woongthi. The two teams are equipped with six sets of electronic voting machines each.

From Jomotshangkha, the two teams will travel into the hills of Serthi and Lauri gewogs. Once in Woongthi, the teams will split.

Sending officials through Merak is risky because the journey involves crossing the Jomori river at least 10 times. A number of minor streams, which are currently swollen, also have to be crossed. There is no bridge over the river and none over the streams in Merak.

Recently, officials had to cross a stream submerged up to their shoulders and clinging onto whatever they could on the banks, while returning from the common forums in the two chiwogs recently.

Though the gewog has constructed mule tracks, rocky terrain and cliffs still make the journey a risky one.

“Both teams were sent from Jomotsangkha since it is risky to cross swollen rivers in summer,” Merak assistant chief election coordinator Sangay Wangchuk said.

Dispatching officials from Merak, also requires trekking at high altitude. Polling officials, en-route to Khelephu would have to cross two passes of not less than 4,000 metres at Lumbhur and Kebulungtse. “Since the officials are vulnerable to altitude sickness, they were sent from Jomotshangkha,” Sangay Wangchuk said.

Leeches are another problem. Though the journey is much safer from Jomotshangkha, officials will still have to walk long distances. Officials en-route to Khashateng will have to walk for over two hours. But those on their way to Khelephu will be walking for two days from Lauri.

The team to Kelephu will have to cross a number of villages in Lauri like Zangthi and Tshothang, before reaching the Kayphakchu pass from where the team will have to trek further to reach Khelephu.

The teams will return on September 28 and be picked up by a bus from Woongthi again.

Meanwhile, most polling officials in other constituencies like Kangpar-Thirimshing and Radhi-Sakteng will be deployed on September 25.

The dates to deploy polling officials for Bartsham-Shongphu and Samkhar-Udzorong constituencies will be known today after refresher courses.

“But the polling officials to nearby polling stations will most likely be deployed only by Sunday or Monday,” Samkhar-Udzorong constituency returning officer Sonam Wangchuk said.

Tempa Wangdi

Supported by Bhutan Media Foundation and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation