LG: Turnout for common forums in Trashigang has declined drastically following the chiwog zomdus, say returning officers in the dzongkhag.

Samkhar-Udzorong constituency returning officer, Sonam Wangchuk, said that turnout for common forums in Udzorong, Samkhar and Kanglung was poor.

Similarly, even in gewogs like Bartsham, Bidung, Shongphu and Yangnyer, only a few people showed up for the forum.

During a common forum in Bidung at Kakaniwog on September 18, only 37 people attended from 117 households.

In Tshekhar, where the last common forum was held on the same day, only 35 people attended from 102 households.

Candidates from Phongemy also complained of poor turnout. “The turnout was only around 40 percent,” Phongmey gup candidate, Palden Dorji, said.

Even in Merak only a few showed up for the common forum. “In Gengu where there are around 140 registered voters, only nine people came to attend the common forum,” Merak mangmi candidate, Phurpa, said. Around 80 people had turned up for the chiwog zomdu.

There are a number of factors affecting turnout. In Bidung, Udzorong and Phongmey, the forums are clashing with the maize harvest season. There is also a lack of chipoens (messengers) in villages to inform people of the gathering.

Bidung gewog administrative officer, Sonam Choden, attributed the harvest season. “Wild boars are rampaging the maize fields if left unguarded,” Sonam Choden said. “People are rushing the maize harvests.”

Poor response from voters to interim chipoens, and goongtongs (absentee landlords) are two other causes. With 110 households, Bidung has one of the highest number of goongtongs in Trashigang.

“Even on September 18 when they were asked to come for the common forum, people were saying they are busy with maize harvest,” Sonam Choden said.

Meanwhile, lack of information about the common forum also affected turnout. Phongmey gup contestant and former gup, Palden Dorji, attributed the lack of chipoens in the villages, a post which was annulled in recent years.

“Since there is no chipoen, there is no one to disseminate information to people in the villages about the common forums,” Palden Dorji said, adding that gewog administrative officers were struggling to convince former chipoens to help spread information in the villages about the common forums.

Earlier, a chipoen disseminated information to each household on meetings and public gatherings. In Merak, Phurpa said people aren’t showing up for the common forum because of door-to-door campaigning.

Some herders also did not attend the forums because they are herding animals in their pasturelands, located days away. “But some are skipping it because they’ve already made up their minds,” Phurpa said.

However, the common forum has added value as this is the platform on which candidates present their credentials and manifesto at the same time. “Though there are no set rules that every one should attend a common forum, it is important for voters to listen to their candidates to choose the most competent local leader,” a returning officer said.

Palden Dorji pointed out that while candidates may not lose much with low turnout at the forums, voters could. “Because people won’t be able to compare candidates, their abilities and their manifestos,” he said.

However, voter Tshering Phuntsho from Tshekhar said that poor turnout would not affect decision making. “Those of us who attended the common forum will inform the rest of our family members about the manifestos and the candidates,” he said.

The candidates also suggested that the Election Commission, in the next local government election, dispatch paid messengers to the villages to disseminate information about common forums.

Tempa Wangdi | Trashigang

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