Bhutan electorate vote in former local leaders, new faces

By Phuntsho Wangdi

BHUTAN - In the first local government elections yesterday the electorate displayed a preference for candidates with experience electing many former local leaders. But many dzongkhags also saw the electorate vote in a mix of both old and new candidates.

Gasa, the largest dzongkhag in the country, with the smallest electorate chose to vote in all former gups for its four gewogs. According to a voter, "electing a new candidate was like trying to build a house without a foundation".

Ten of the 11 gewogs in the southeastern district of Samdrup Jongkhar also voted in former gups in an election that was disrupted by downpours and power cuts. Those who voted for former gups said they had the experience and would not waste time learning on the job, which today had much more responsibilities.

The eastern district of Trashiyangste also elected their former local leaders contesting the election. One former gup who was accused of corruption did not contest the election although a number of voters said they would have elected him had he contested.

Lhuenste, Sarpang, Trongsa, Samtse, Chukha, Zhemgang and Bumthang saw voters elect a mix of former local leaders and new candidates.

In Tang, Bumthang, voter chose a 27-year old university graduate as gup. He got the better of a former gup and mangmi , contesting the same post.

The southern district of Samtse, which has the highest number of voters, elected seven former local leaders and eight new faces. Likewise Chukha dzongkhag elected six former gups and two former mangmis.

Zhemgang elected four former local leaders and four new gups two of whom are businessmen, one runs the cable service in Buli, and one is a former chimi.

Pemagatsel dzongkhag, however, saw the other extreme where six of the seven former gup candidates lost to new contestants. The only former gup who won was the lone candidate in his constituency.

Observers said one of the biggest advantages for former gups is that they spend a lot of time in the village and therefore know the issues of the community. "When compared to a new face that has education but has not spent time in the village, a seasoned person is the preferred choice," a Thimphu voter said. "The image of a gup as of now is a seasoned elderly man."

In many of the gewogs where former gups lost it was either to another local government official who the people are familiar with. But in some cases the anti incumbency factor also worked against them, particularly those that have branched out to do other things like contract work.