Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party’s president Neten Zangmo is a tough woman. That is how people know her.
She served the nation for more than 30 years in various capacities. She was cabinet secretary, foreign secretary, and chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission. She is a recipient of the Druk Thuksey medal and red scarf.
However, there is a softer part to her. In her meetings with the people, she sits with the crowd and the people interact with her as a confidant.
She is also known as Nangi Aum because she speaks with passion and intensity.
Her message to the people remains same and focused – ensuring free and fair elections, that no one can and should sacrifice the future of the country for short-term gains.
At most forums, she has maintained that the present political scenario is saturated with fear, mistrust and fragmentation.
She strives to create a space for civil discussion and robust argumentation on important issues with the welfare of nation guiding the political discourse.
Her party has taken unto itself the mission to transform the complacent attitude towards Bhutan’s changed political reality and democracy.
The eldest in the family of four, Neten Zangmo was born to an attendant to the Second Druk Gyalpo, and who later became the Drungpa or the sub-divisional officer in Dewathang.
Born in Bumthang in 1961, and graduating from Sherubtse Public School, she was among the first women engineers in the country.
Whether they are the candidates standing against her in the elections, the election officials or supporters of other parties, Neten Zangmo stands for what she speaks and her values.
“If all candidates were like Aum Neten Zangmo then election commission’s job will be much easier,” an official on election duty remarked during a common forum last week.
“Most candidates speak of what they are going to give us in development activities, but she is different,” a villager from Phuntshothang said. “She makes us think of a clean and better future.”
The perception of the people is that even if she loses the election, Aum Neten Zangmo will rise out of this election with her integrity and principles intact.
Her supporters said that if her party wins in the primary elections, there would be a huge shift in the way party politics is played in the country. They think that and are confident that illegal use of money and power in elections will drop.
“She could also be the first woman prime minister of the country,” a party supporter said.
It is beginning to rain. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) president, Lotay Tshering, with umbrella at the ready has pretty much only to look at the landslide at Sombayna, Gasa. His is on the campaign trail from Punakha to Gasa.
The president asked his team members to go back and wait for him at Damji as he got ready to cross the landslide. But the team members, in Nyamrup spirit, followed the president to Khatoed-Laya constituency in Gasa.
He was determined to make it to the other side and the blockade could not stop the president from reaching his destination, although late.
Lotay Tshering, 50, is humble, genuine, and compassionate. At any rate, that is the image he has built around him. He is a medical doctor by profession. Those who support him and his party describe him as committed, hardworking, honest, and visionary.
From Dalukha, Thimphu, Lotay Tshering is, reportedly, a person who is ready to run to the call of profession no matter what time it is. Having been in the system for long, he does not appreciate shortfall and believes that he could offer better choices.
Lotay Tshering makes it a point to speak to whoever he meets. As party president, it is these days mostly about democratic process. A devout Buddhist, he is seen always carrying prayer beads and a towel that rests on his knees when he is travelling.
When asked about the towel, he said with a laugh that it was to cover his skinny legs. These are small conversations while he is resting and mingling with his friends and people. The moment the journey begins, he is quiet, counting the rosary. He is then a thinking man all of a sudden.
He is also an approachable character. During one of his campaigns, two women were whispering while he was speaking. He pretended to eavesdrop, and began to laugh. “I thought you two had a very important thing to discuss, but appears you were talking about sharing a pear, which you could do that later.” And the crowd burst into laughter.
Lotay Tshering resigned to join politics in 2013. He paid about Nu 6.2 million to the government to leave the civil service. As a politician, he campaigned then as he is now doing – to improve Bhutan’s health system.
“What I could not do in chamber 9 of JDWNRH, I wished to do by joining politics,” he said. He keep repeating this wherever he goes.
He believes in taking services to the people and is convinced that DNT has the best instruments to do so.
Pema Gyamtsho, 57, president of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) is soft-spoken yet very articulate.
He has been an advocate of long-term equitable and sustainable policies and plans.
After having served as the agriculture minister (2008 to 2013) in the first democratically elected government and as opposition leader in the second Parliament, Pema Gyamtsho is vying for the third term in as a member of the National Assembly.
He says he has enjoyed the support of all the leaders and party members. He represents Choekhor-Tang constituency of Bumthang.
Pema Gyamtsho completed his PhD in Natural Sciences from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich in 1996.
Pema Gyamtsho worked as deputy resident coordinator at Helvetas/SDC Bhutan from October 2006 to October 2007, who was then responsible for programme development and planning in addition to assisting the resident coordinator.
From May 2002 to August 2006, he worked as senior natural resources policy specialist and also headed Policy and Partnership Development at the Kathmandu-based NGO ICIMOD. He also worked as Deputy Secretary and as head of Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Agriculture in Bhutan. He also worked as Project Manager, National Sheep Development Project, Bumthang.
Pema Gyamtsho, said praises meant little to him and was undaunted by challenges.
Pema Gyamtsho led DPT in 2013 as the president and as the opposition leader maintained that the opposition should be supportive of the government and that it should oppose only when necessary.
“The role of opposition is not to take the government to court,” he says, adding that both the government and the opposition should find solutions to problems within the domain of the Parliament. As the opposition leader, he actively advocated against a transport agreement involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN), which was ultimately deferred indefinitely by Parliament.
He has also been critical of freebees and handouts in the name of development. He argued that self-sufficiency was the key to strengthening of the national sovereignty and security.
Pema Gyamtsho said Bhutanese democracy should be a narrative of unity and cooperation, a story of success.
Asked if the recent negative posts about DPT on social could affect DPT in the election, Pema Gyamtsho said they would not. “Whatever motive he had in timing his post just before primary elections, it is not going to deter people from supporting DPT.”
His energy, enthusiasm and determination to get things done are at its peak. Many admire his amiable persona. Meet the president of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Tshering Tobgay.
Tshering Tobgay is the only politician in the country who has served both as the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. He is also one of the first civil servants to resign and join politics.
Tshering Tobgay, who turns 53 four days after the poll, co-founded the PDP establishing the party as Bhutan’s first registered political party.
The party led by former minister Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup won only two seats in 2008 and Tshering Tobgay led the two-member opposition from 2008 to 2013. In 2009, the party president resigned on moral grounds and Tshering Tobgay took over the presidency.
As a vocal opposition, he appealed to the people who even preferred to call him dokcho (opposition) to his name. He reached out to the literate and the youth through his blog, which was popular until he stopped blogging after becoming the prime Minister in 2013.
His popularity on social media has earned him huge number of followers from both within and outside the country. As he campaigns in the villages, he never ignores his followers on the social media and takes time to update his every move.
In a span of about 20 days, except for Gasa, he has covered all the dzongkhags and had addressed more than 70 campaign meetings each lasting not less than an hour.
In Rangjung, his campaign was aired live on Facebook and as of yesterday 33, 000 people had viewed it.
Despite the busy campaign schedule, Tshering Tobgay is never tired and has time for light moments. En-route to Tsirang, he stopped by the roadside shops in Burichhu and introduced his party as ‘gora party’ speaking in ordinary Lhotsamkha.
As he leads the party for the third parliamentary elections, he said PDP is “absolutely fortunate” to have “outpouring support” from the people. “People have expressed their gratitude to the party,” he said.
During the campaign, he never forgets to thank the people for giving PDP and him an opportunity to form the Opposition in 2008 and the government in 2013. “If elected again, I will further my efforts to serve the King, Country and People,” he said.
He was awarded the Lungmar scarf on December 17, 2014.