The morning after I was announced as a candidate of a political party, I went to visit a close acquaintance. It was a warm sunny day in Haa and the usual thing would be for my friend to come out of his house and greet me. That day, he received me at the door of his house and asked me to come inside, almost impatiently. Later, I learnt that by joining politics, I was already marked as somebody to be avoided. Why can’t we continue to be normal and let politics take its own course?
My candidature was announced on January 31 and according to a notification on the ECB website, political activities are disallowed between February and May. My party leaders said they checked with ECB and I could carry out my “familiarization visit” until mid-February. That was the first electoral confusion I faced. Two days later, I was informed that I could go on until ECB announces the NC election. Why couldn’t these matters be made known well ahead of time?
Election officials informed me that I cannot assemble people for the familiarization visit but I could go door to door. Also, I cannot offer even doma-paney. That led to more confusions. If elections were to be fair, isn’t it better to avoid going door to door and have public gatherings instead. Door to door, I could discuss anything and exchange anything. But those are the regulations, I was told. In the evenings, I watch TV and there, I can see ministers and MPs (somehow conveniently in their own constituencies) at public gatherings with all the chadris in place, and people being served and entertained. And here, I am not allowed to assemble people and while going door to door, I cannot even offer a traditional gesture of a doma-paney. Is it fair?
Another important lesson I learnt was not to ignore any person in your constituency be they on the road, in their gardens, at their house or anywhere and use every opportunity to talk to them. With a big smile all the time. Suddenly, everybody in your locality has become important. For their thumbprint on election day! Because, I was also told, sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously, that the smile and the importance of the people you meet, need not be sustained after election day. Meaning, you can then get back to being normal. How wonderful, I thought, it would be if the feeling of people in your locality being important and smiling at them all the time, could continue post election day. Then, I was reminded, it is not the people that voted, it is usually the people who get elected, that forgot all these good emotions once they are gone to Thimphu.
That 2018 is election year for both houses of Parliament seem to be creating another kind of confusion for the people. In one village, I introduced myself as my party’s candidate and the lady said, ‘oh, there was another guy from a nearby village yesterday’. That guy is an NC candidate. Isn’t there a possibility to adjust the election activities of the two houses such that people are not confused? It’s difficult to imagine the situation in larger dzongkhags. Haa, which is the second smallest dzongkhag, will be having 4 NC candidates and 5 party candidates. Got to understand and pity the poor people!
Then, I tried to read the guiding laws and regulations for elections. Apart from the Constitution and the Election Act, I counted as many as 40+ regulations, guidelines and manuals on the ECB website. I wonder if any MP, past and present, have found time to read all of them? The electoral process seems be more on regulating and less on facilitation. In my one week of politics, I have heard the cautionary message “you cannot do this” or “you cannot do that” numerous times.
I also learnt some positive sides of politics. On the familiarization tour, I was able to visit a number of villages not far from my own that I must have seen from the highway but never even given a thought. There, I was pleasantly surprised to meet friends from my school days in the 1960s. For someone, to whom the Government provided an opportunity to reach Austin in Texas USA, Lake District in the UK, Santiago in Chile and many other places so far away, I felt ashamed that I had to join politics to reach these wonderful villages just a few kilometres off the road that I must have travelled hundreds of times. For this lifetime opportunity alone, more people should join politics.
I cannot relate all that I experienced. But we still have 7-8 months to go, although I have been warned that going by events past, things will get more ugly and confrontational in the days ahead! Should we allow the same things to continue?
Contributed by Lam Dorji
Bji-Kartso-Uesu, Haa Dzongkhag