LG: If elections are contests of ideology and strategy, it is also much about popularity, especially for gup candidates in Khamae gewog, Gasa.

The two contestants wield equally strong trump cards.

One is a former umze of the Gasa dratshang, a post with much authority, following which he became a lam at Tshephu goenpa. The other is a seasoned local leader with 14 years of gup experience.

Kinley Penjore is widely known in the gewog as a straight forward person and helpful in performing rituals for the locals. He served more than four years as the gewog clerk.

“We’re a very religious community and his help in times of need is very much appreciated,” a villager,  Rinchen said. The villagers have to travel either 27km to Gasa Dzong or bring monks from Punakha Dzong which incurs additional costs. Thus, the likes of Kinley Penjore are very much sought after in the community given his experience. Most villagers have to perform two annual rituals in summer and winter.

Kinley Penjore promised a lot more transparency in administration, tangible outcomes of development and better quality infrastructure.

“People will be informed of budget details and how it is used,” he said, while resting after completing his door-to-door campaign of Jabisa chiwog yesterday. “A lot of roads and water supply lines have been built but they are not so reliable, I’ll change that.”

The gewog receives a lot of rain and the farm roads and water supply lines tend to break down. He said he will ensure quality maintenance and build better roads and water supply systems.

However, he said that he does not want to make too many promises. “I don’t want to lie.”

Kinley Penjore, 45, beat a graduate nominee at the chiwog zomdu with 39 votes to 33 to become the gup candidate from Damji chiwog.

His opponent and the former gup, Karma Tshering has 13 voters from his household alone. This could create some trouble for his opponent given that there are not many voters.

The 58-year-old former gup is asking for a last term.

“I’ve been a local leader for all these years but I still have to do one thing –  provide electric fencing to each household,” he said.

Villagers said the government gives them subsidised materials only if more than five households apply. While many have applied for subsidised materials the required quantity could not be obtained.

His other campaign pledge is to have depots to exchange liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in every chiwog, if not, at least a depot at the gewog centre.

“People have to travel all the way to Gasa or Punakha to change cylinders which is costly as well as time consuming,” he said.

The gewog has five chiwogs with 487 voters: Damji has the highest number of voters at 128, followed by Barsha-Panikong with 127, Gayza-Zomina has 95, Khailo 69 and Jabisa has 68.

The contest between mangmi candidates is no less intense. Two former mangmis are pitched against a recently retired teacher.

Damcho Dorji, 34, from Khailo-Tarshithang chiwog is bravely taking on two heavy weights despite his parents still sore with him for leaving his government job.

“I think I can make a difference and do something for this community, there needs to be some change in leadership, they’ve held the posts for too long,” he said.

Damcho Dorji agrees in part with the pledges of both the gup candidates.

While electric fencing is a dire need for farmers to protect their crops, people feel that transparency in administration requires improvement, he said.

However, there are some issues with the electric fencing, Karma Tshering said.

The Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park provided materials for electric fencing to Damji gewog but villagers could not come to an agreement on labour contribution to install the fence. In the end the fence was returned to the park authority.

“I’ll go to any length to get the fence for each household,” Karma Tshering said.

Among the chiwogs, Damji has the highest number of voters, and also the most contestants: one each for gup, mangmi and tshogpa posts. The village is about 27km from Gasa town towards Punakha with lush green rice fields turning into golden waves. The village is also home to the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, and has more than five shops, and hosts the gewog centre.

Most of the contestants for the LG elections are retired monks.

Khamae gewog has three mangmi contestants, and 11 tshogpa candidates for five posts.

Tshering Palden | Gasa 

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