On the morning of the primary round’s poll day, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) president Pema Gyamtsho stood in queue to cast his vote at the polling station in Tang, Bumthang.
The election officials noticed him waiting for his turn and asked him to go ahead to cast his vote. While election rules do not allow candidates to be at the polling stations, the president’s humility did not go unnoticed among those who had gathered there.
When DPT offered him to join the party in 2008, he was unsure how to react.
“It was the nation’s call to serve the Tsawa-Sum,” he said. “I had to take it.”
After the first election, he served as agriculture minister. When the founding president of DPT resigned, Pema Gyamtsho was chosen among the party member to take over as the president.
In a decade’s political journey, DPT had to weather storms, both big and small, testing the new president’s leadership skills. Today, party members say, that it is his leadership that helped the party assail the odds. “If DPT is where it is today, the party owes much to the president and voters who believe in his leadership.”
Soft-spoken yet articulate, people who know the 57 year-old say he is a cordial, determined, and dependable person. Praises and accolades, they say, mean little to him. For him, duties and responsibilities precede undeserved fame and personal comfort.
But when he believes he must, he can be pretty blunt.“Fear was implanted in the people’s mind who hardly came to attend meetings when I visited the dzongkhags in the capacity of Opposition Leader,” he said.
Today, he is spanning the country campaigning for the upcoming election. In the south, he doesn’t need a translator. He knows how to put his point across.
“The people know what we stand for – the King, country, and the people,” he said. “That why we have good support base in the constituencies.”
Pema Gyamtsho is not troubled by what could happen to the party in the run up to the poll day but is worried by the narratives and threats that are doing the round which could do damage to the nation’s stability and peace.
And so in every campaign, he urges the people to not sell their votes or be influenced by short-term gains and promises.
Pema Gyamtsho has been an advocate of long-term equitable and sustainable policies and plans since he began his career in the civil service. Endurance and strength, born of a will to serve the nation took him down the many gorges and high mountains to understand the needs of the people living in the removed and often difficult situations.
He is a popular figure in Laya where he knows the mountains better than any civil servant and politician.
“I have walked from the northern borders to southern hills covering almost all the remote places in the country,” he said.
An elderly villager in Laya recalled how Pema Gyamtsho was friendly with everyone in the village. “He is a very humble and upright person,” he said.
They got to know each other first in 1993 and, since then, they have been good friends. “When it comes to work, he takes it very seriously. And he knows how to have fun.”
Pema Gyamtsho spent four summers in Laya doing his PhD research.
“He has done a lot for Laya and the Layaps,” said Phurba, a villager who was waiting for the DPT president’s visit to Laya. “We are good friends. I am so glad to see him after almost a decade.”
In Laya, Pema Gyamtsho played a strong role in opening a school in Singyethang. “Back then, there was no schools in Laya,” he said. “ To begin with, we had to look for children of school-going age in the village. And that wasn’t easy.”
Pema Gyamtsho is also credited for helping the people of Laya grow fodder. Today, every household in Laya has their own pasture encircling their house. He also helped the villagers build the first watermill with which people could make flour.
“Parties will come and go, but the country and its people should win,” he said. “It’s not enough to dream, we must set a target.”
Tshering Dorji | Samtse