Friday, December 7, 2007

Electioneering electronically

By: Tashi Dema

6 December, 2007 -
It was with excitement and high expectations that the residents of Zhemgang town, Trong and Dangkhar villages gathered at the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogdu (DYT) hall on the chilly morning of December 2.

They were told that the two National Council candidates of the dzongkhag, Pema Lhamo from Nangkhor gewog and Pema Dendup from Trong gewog, would be giving speeches and asking each other questions in a debate or tseodpa. Tseodpa is a religious term meaning a debate between intellectuals, that would enable the audience to discuss and decide on differences within a timeframe.

To add to the excitement were the TV cameras placed in various locations around the hall to record the event for broadcast on national TV and radio on December 8.

As the cameras began to roll and silence took hold over the hall, both candidates were given five minutes each to speak. They used it to introduce themselves, express why they wanted to be councillors and explain the difference between the National Assembly and the National Council.
They were given a chance to ask a question each and given two minutes to respond. Pema Lhamo asked her opponent what he as a councillor would do to stop a strong ruling government from indulging in unlawful activities.

Pema Dendup asked Pema Lhamo why she shifted her census to Nangkhor gewog.
That brought to an abrupt end the ‘public debate’, leaving the audience a little lost and somewhat dissatisfied.

“I thought I’d be discussing whom I’m going to vote for and why I was going to vote for him or her with my friends when I came to the hall,” said Thinley, 38, of Zhemgang town, who had worn his favourite mathra gho for the occasion.

“All they did was introduce themselves and give reasons why they wanted to be councillors. That’s what they tell us everytime we meet them,” said Rinchen, another resident of Zhemgang town.

Some of the people, who had gathered at the DYT hall, said that they expected the debate would involve the public.

“I thought it would be something like ‘We the People’ on NDTV,” said Norbu, a civil servant in Zhemgang, who was called to watch the debate from the khuru field.

“But I’m skeptical whether this 14-minute public debate will be good enough to educate the voters on the capability of a particular contestant.”

The two candidates also felt that the time was too short for discussions and deliberations.
Pema Lhamo said that though television was one of the best media to reach out to voters, it was sad that they could not maximise the opportunity.

Pema Dendup said that they could have made an hour-long programme and telecast the edited version for 14 minutes.

The BBSC team coordinator, Chimi Dorji, said that they followed the provisions related to Election Advertising, where it states that each candidate gets five minutes to make his statement and two minutes to respond to a question or make an observation.

“Since Zhemgang has only two candidates, people felt the debate was short, in other dzongkhags where there are four to five candidates, it will take about 42 minutes,” said Chimi Dorji.

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