A majority of voters in the two constituencies of Sarpang will head to the polls amid preparations for Dassain, which falls on October 19, the day after the general election polls.

With a total of 30,183 registered voters, Sarpang is the fourth largest dzongkhag after Trashigang, Samtse and Mongar in terms of voter population. The Gelephu constituency has 17,242 voters, while the other constituency Shompangkha has 12,941.

As the candidates are engaged in their door-to-door campaign, representatives of the two political parties are keeping a close eye on their opponents. However, election officials in Sarpang said they have not received official complaints as of yesterday.

The dzongkhag electoral officer, Sonam Wangda, said no election complaints have been filed by any of the parties. “We don’t have issues and the election period has been smooth,” he said.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) won both the constituencies in the primaries, but the candidates and supporters say that it is a new game all together now. Voters are weighing both the parties and candidates for the general election.

In the primaries, DNT had won a total of 6,759 votes, while Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) secured 4,710, from the two constituencies. The voters of two eliminated parties – Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are expected to play a crucial role in deciding the fate of DNT and DPT candidates.


Close contest on the cards in Gelephu 

The battle for ballots in Gelephu appears to be tough for both DPT’s Pema Tashi and DNT’s Karma D Wangdi. The constituency saw a close contest between the two parties in the primary.

Karma D Wangdi, 47, who is a former National Council member, had contested for DPT in 2013 and lost. He said he was hopeful that the people would now elect him to the National Assembly.

“I would like to believe that I have managed to touch the hearts of my constituents. I see positive sides of things,” he said on why he was hopeful of pulling off a victory.

DNT’s constituency coordinator for Gelephu, Sonam, said he was 70 percent hopeful that his party would win Gelephu. “People have understood our pledges. They have appreciated the idea of narrowing the gap,” he said.

It is the second parliamentary election for 33-year-old Pema Tashi, who contested the 2018 National Council election. The DNT candidate is from the thromde while the DPT candidate is from Serzhong gewog, which is located across the Maokhola.

A majority of voters in the four gewogs across the Maokhola River are resettled.

Pema Tashi said he was not over-confident, adding that the supporters of PDP and BKP could vote for any of the candidates.

In the primaries, DNT had beaten DPT by a slim margin of 120 EVM and postal votes. However, DPT had won 72 more EMV votes than DNT.

A DPT coordinator Tshering Jamtsho said that Pema Tashi stood a better chance since he came from across the Maokhola. “Candidates from across the river have a better chance. DPT can also provide a better leadership at the national level,” he said.

On the top of the priority lists of both the candidates is the Maokhola bridge.

Residents of the constituency Kuensel talked to said having the bridge has become more important with the relocation of the Gelephu drungkhag office across the Maokhola in Umling gewog.

A resident, Kinley Tshering, said that the bridge is important for residents on both sides of the river. “If there is a new bridge over the Maokhola, people from Gelephu thromde area can reach the drungkhag office in half an hour by car, while it would be convenient for people residing across the river to visit the thromde,” he said.

Karma D Wangdi says that a bridge over Maokhola is a basic infrastructure required for the development of Gelephu thromde. “It’s high time to develop Gelephu town. Gelephu has the best chance to be a metropolitan city in Bhutan in future,” he said.

The pledge to build a bridge over Maokhola is both in the constituency and national manifestos of DNT.

DPT hasn’t made a specific mention of the bridge in its national manifesto. However, the candidate Pema Tashi said that the bridge would automatically come in the party’s southern east-west road connectivity plan.

“We have plans to connect Panbang in Zhemgang via the four gewogs across the Maokhola,” Pema Tahsi said. “We have included the pledge for the Maokhola bridge in my constituency pledge for Gelephu constituency,” Pema Tashi said.

The DPT candidate feels that building a bridge over Maokhola alone will not be enough for the development of the constituency. He also said that he would prioritize other infrastructures such as inter-dzongkhag and inter-gewog road networks.


Shompangkha constituency 

DPT candidate Deo Kumar Rimal said that he was undeterred by the primary round results in Shompangkha constituency. DNT won the constituency in the primaries with a total of 3,271 votes while DPT came third with 1,342 votes.

However, the 34-year-old said the general election was a new game altogether. He said he was capable of raising people’s issue in Parliament and that he was hopeful the people would vote for him for the qualities he possesses to represent them.

“I would like to request people to vote for the long-term interest of the country and the people,” he said.

The constituency coordinator of DPT, Jigme, said he was 80 percent sure of DPT winning the Shompangkha constituency. “We have worked harder after the primaries. A lot of people who voted for other parties in the primary are supportive of our party,” the coordinator said.

DNT’s Tek Bdr Rai, 40, from Singye gewog said that he was not overconfident although DNT won in the primary. “I am positive about my chances. I have good local pledges that I have come up with in consultation with the people,” he said.

A member of DNT from the constituency said the people had bright future with DNT. “We haven’t thought of losing in our constituency. We have seen very good support for our party here,” he said.

Shompangkha constituency has 12,941 registered voters.

Drinking and irrigation water and maintenance and construction of road networks are the main priorities of both DNT and DPT candidates.

Tek Bdr Rai said agricultural production in the constituency would be increased if the government builds a proper irrigation system. He says he has plans to develop a factory in the special economic zone in his constituency.

He said that Shompangkha still has census and land issues. However, he said he has explained to the people that the government would not be able to do much when it comes to the issue of census and land.

Deo Kumar Rimal said that plans to enhance road connectivity in the constituency were derived from his party’s national manifesto.

He argues that DPT was a better choice, saying that the party has both long term and short-term goals.

MB Subba | Sarpang