Minjur Dorji/ Wangduephodrang, Punakha
Majority of the voters and ‘party tshogpas’ (workers and coordinators) in the rural parts of Punakha and Wangduephodrang are well-versed on democracy and party politics, having gained political experience in the past five years.
Armed with such know-how, the people seem ready to use their sacred votes ‘wisely’ – in line with what has been advised by every political candidate across the country during their campaigns or at common forums.
While some farmers are grateful to the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) for the party’s achievements within the vicinity of their villages, some are not so much pleased over unfulfilled promises, ignorance, and corruption among others.
Supporters of respective parties are most passionate to get their choice of candidates or parties elected to office.
Some farmers, who have worked as party tshogpas for DPT and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during the first parliamentary elections in 2008, are back on their feet, this time with additional wisdom. A few loyal tshogpas are coordinating for their old parties, while some have ventured on to new ones. Some tshogpas are new to the post as well.
“Candidates have suddenly realized that we are related to them through marriage or blood, and we know exactly what they want from us. It’s funny because we never knew of them and today they say that we are family,” Tandin, a young farmer said.
One of the interesting developments in party politics at the local level is that some of the party tshogpas are working for several parties at a time, and getting paid to advocate for them.
“The DPT tshogpa in our chiwog is actually a strong supporter of the Khamshing Meto (DNT logo). It’s a secret vote, and no one has the right to know whom anyone voted for,” a reliable source told The Bhutanese.
There are reportedly more than five such tshogpas in just two gewogs.
Some voters based at their villages said they are accepting almost everything offered by candidates of all the four parties. “We don’t mind distributing their slogan cards and candidate photos, or accepting payments for it, but we understand that everything boils down to the vote which we shall cast for the most capable and deserving,” a party tshogpa under Lingmukha-Toewang constituency in Punakha said.
“We know who have brought progress in our villages, who haven’t and who might in the future. So, am listening to every candidate coming to our villages but will vote for the one that I have in mind,” a farmer in Phangyul village of Wangduephodrang said.
In 2008, during the first parliamentary elections, the party tshogpas played a huge role, and perhaps, were the first people to actively take politics to communities and rural homes. The two contesting parties back then realized the necessity to have a strong rural support to garner votes, which led to the appointment of influential people in villages as party tshogpas. The tshogpas are paid for their services by the political parties.
The primary functions of party tshogpas include assisting in coordinating campaigns and party meetings. The tshogpas also assume the roles of marketing agents of political parties who lobby for votes, and sell the candidates’ profiles in the constituencies.
It was reported that a majority of disputes, personal accusations, and other cases in the 2008 elections were attributed to the party tshogpas. The Election Commission of Bhutan has registered a total of 111 such cases as of March 2008.