During a recent common forum session in Phongmay gewog, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) Radhi-Sakteng candidate, Dorji Tshering, shared an incident on how his campaign was being undone by the opposition party workers.

“As I descended from Sakteng campaigning and meeting people around, I came to know that there was someone, a party worker, following me and undoing everything I was explaining to the people I came across when I reached Radhi.”

Kuensel also learnt that there was an issue in the gewog last month where a tshogpa of one of the parties was seen going around conducting campaigns on behalf of the candidates. It was learnt that the candidate was not kept in the loop by the tshogpa while going around conducting campaigns.

The issue was reported verbally to the office of the returning officer and resolved.

Similarly, last month during the visit of DNT president’s visit to Bidung gewog, the party alleged that Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) gewog coordinator had instigated the people to not attend DNT president’s talk in the gewog.

Given these instances of party workers (tshogpa) making rounds in villages to lobby for candidates and influencing voters in Trashigang, the need of party workers has resurfaced in the on-going election.

To what extent the electorate gets swayed by local party workers remain to be seen, but candidates of both the parties acknowledged that party workers are involved in mudslinging and spreading false information among the people.

Dorji Tshering said that while the need for tshogpas are crucial in an election, their role and functions are being misused. “With all the benefits associated in having a tshogpa system, I would like to see authority concerned doing away with tshogpas for good,” he said, adding that while the intention is to garner support for the candidate, it should not come at the cost of election regulations.

DPT’s Radhi-Sakteng candidate, Tashi Dorji, said that the need for party tshogpa is to facilitate and help candidates during their visits in villages. “The objective and intention of having a tshogpa is good but since there is no clear-cut roles and responsibilities specified to them, it is becoming an issue today.”

He said that tshogpas of both the parties work hard to support their candidate and in the process they at times end up doing things that are in conflict with law.

Political parties are allowed to appoint a dzongkhag coordinator, a coordinator each in gewogs and one for the constituency. However, there is no clarity on appointing chiwog and village level coordinators.

Tashi Dorji said that candidates and parties are allowed to appoint chiwog coordinators called lay-japs and there is no limitation to the number of lay-japs in a village. It was learnt that a political party could have a minimum of six lay-japs in a village.

In Trashigang, a political party would have a total of 21 coordinators. However, the number of lay-japs in the village and chiwogs is higher.

DPT’s Bartsham-Shongphu candidate, Passang Dorji, said that party tshogpas are helpful for coordination, understanding local issues in the villages and to introduce the candidates to the people.

“Party workers are important in the party structure. They connect us to the voters,” he said. “They help us make the democratic process more vibrant and encourage people to participate in the democratic process”

However, he said that if tshogpas are aggressive, it leads to social and communal disharmony. “They fight among themselves along party lines.

Tshogpas also form a mechanism whereby they report on each other to the authority on anything illegal and corrupt practices,” he said.

He said that without the involvement of the tshogpas, a missing link between the candidates and electorates would be created. “If we want to have a clean election without the tshogpas, Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) should put in extra effort to educate the people and make them immune to any form of illegal practices.”

DNT Bartsham-Shongphu candidate, Tenzin Lekphell, said that while it is a requirement of the democratic process to involve people’s participation in the election process, there is a problem.

“There are no roles and responsibilities and ethics developed for tshogpas. We have to develop one,” he said.

Tenzin Lekphell said party leaders should guide tshogpas and such issues are dependent on party leadership and the conscience of the candidates. “Our democracy is not perfect and such things are expected but at the same time we cannot let it go unnoticed and let it grow.”

He said that a new issue this election is the usage of social-media platform like WeChat. “Because the content is shared in voice format, the consumers are rural population and there are people distorting information of the candidates and spreading it to the voters.”

However, Tenzin Lekphell said that since 2008, there have been a lot of improvements on how the tshogpas function and issues related to it. “It’s only a matter of time and I feel without the people’s participation, our democracy may not be complete,” he said, adding that it is a teething problem associated with a young democracy.

Meanwhile, the returning officer for Bartsham-Shongphu constituency said that there were no issues after his briefing to the candidates and tshogpas following the issue on September 29.

Younten Tshedup | Bartsham