What will decide the Bumthang bye-election?

Views from voters in the constituency

Tashi Dema

At the centre of the Chhoekhor-Tang bye-election on November 19 is a farm road and the promise to blacktop it. Will a road that will benefit most of the voters in the constituency decide the election? Will the government be able to fulfil its pledge?

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) candidate, Tenzin Norbu, has not shared details of his pledges with the media. The ruling government’s candidate, Dawa, has pledged to blacktop the 18-km farm road from Chhoekhor gewog centre to Dhur village.

Will the promise of blacktopping the road, the pledge that raised the antenna of voters in Chhoekhor make a difference?

A local leader in Bumthang, on the condition of anonymity, said it would not be an easy win for either candidate. “It’s not just a choice between the two candidates or their capability but many other factors.”

Going by past election results, the constituency had been a strong support base for Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). Tenzin Norbu is from Chhoekhor gewog, which has more than 4,309 voters of the constituency’s 6,219 eligible voters.

The party’s supporters are also campaigning against DNT’s candidate, Dawa, for being the twin brother of the dzongkhag’s National Council (NC) representative, Nima. “DPT supporters here are telling voters not to elect both the NC and National Assembly members from the same family,” Wangchuk, a resident from Chhoekhortoe said.

Wangchuk, however, said that most people in Chhoekhortoe are supporting Dawa because of DNT’s promise to blacktop the farm road. 

Many in the locality say that when the former Opposition Leader couldn’t blacktop the road, a member wouldn’t be able to.”

A voter from Chhoekhortoe, Pema, said many former DPT supporters are siding with DNT this time because of the farm road pledge. “It is now between the ruling government and the opposition,” he said. “They want to support the government.”

Pema is present in Wechat groups of all villages of Choekhortoe and he claims that Dawa will get 70 percent vote from Chhoekhor gewog centre polling station, 50 percent from Kharsa, Goling and Thangbi, 50 percent from Dhur, 70 percent from Tang and almost 60 percent from Chamkhar and Wangdicholing and 30 percent from Changwai and Dorjibee side.

According to a civil servant, who would be voting by postal ballot, most people in Chhoekhortoe own vehicles and their only need is a good road. “Many here support DNT because the Prime Minister visited and promised to blacktop the road,” he said.

Some are also convinced that Dawa had consulted the prime minister before declaring his candidature and asked if the government could fulfil his pledge of blacktopping the farm road. “Everyone believes that he declared his candidature only after he got the assurance,” he said.

However, the DPT’s candidate being from Chhoekhor is seen as a challenge for Dawa.

A voter from Chamkhar, Tshering, said it would be difficult for DNT, as the Chhoekhor community has strong DPT supporters. “The government’s inability to fulfil much of its pledges might also backfire.”

According to him, the prime minister, during his recent visit, had promised to sent specialists and gynaecologist to Wangdicholing hospital but many here are saying the government couldn’t fulfil many such promises.

He also said the DPT candidate grew up in the town but his parents are from Dhur and Kharsa. “I have a feeling they will only vote for the candidate from their community.”

The by-election is also followed with interest, as it will have bearing on future parliamentary elections.

A strong supporter of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from Bumthang said they have their own interest in the election. “We have to ensure DNT doesn’t become too strong,” he said.

DNT has 30 members in the parliament and DPT 17 candidates. DNT will still have a huge majority even if they lose the constituency to DPT.

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