English | Dzongkha Wednesday, January 20, 2021

People question PM and OL for breaching COVID-19 preventive protocols during the Chhoekhor_Tang bye-election

Dec 3, 2020

The success of the first-ever election in the country amid the global pandemic is shadowed by the frustrations shared by some pertaining to the protocols that are allegedly forced on ordinary people and relaxed when it concerns influential people. Netizens and people across the country questioned why the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, two of the most influential figures in Bhutan didn’t completely observe COVID-19 preventive protocols during the Chhoekhor_Tang bye-election campaigns.

Besides face masks, no other protocols were followed during the 24-day campaign period.

When Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) announced the dates for the Chhoekhor_Tang bye-election, many people speculated how election campaigns would be conducted amid the pandemic. The Dzongkhag Election Authority in Bumthang informed both the candidates and party presidents to follow the preventive measures. Though Common Forums, which are conducted by the Authority, were carried out as per health protocols, party campaigns went about without physical distancing, sanitizers and handwashing facilities. This has not gone down well with the public especially those affected by restrictions imposed on their businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It is as though the public gatherings at Bumthang bye-election don’t have the potential to spread the coronavirus. Likewise, if we take a look at the mobile and medical shops of Norling Building in Thimphu, most of them are jam-packed with customers. They say elections are a priority and are conducted without health protocols even during the pandemic but entertainment centres are remaining shutdown costing us time and livelihood,” said Checho Dorji, the Chairperson of the Thimphu Drayang Association.

“The government advocates on avoiding public gatherings but when we see gatherings during election campaigns, we are left confused,” added Pem Tshering, a resident of Phuentshogling.

“There are about 15 to 20 new movies that couldn’t be screened. When it comes to cinemas, all moviegoers are in-country Bhutanese. The President of the Film Association of Bhutan has even proposed the government about a reopening strategy in line with all health protocols but we didn’t get any response from the government yet. The film industry would be able to contribute to the economy if cinemas reopen,” shared Dorji Wangchuk, a Filmaker.

The Prime Minister said campaign meetings had to be held through public gatherings, as the door-to-door visit was virtually impossible due to a large number of households.

“It’s understandable that people are reasonably upset about the gatherings we conducted but we had to do that as the bye-election situation demanded it. However, all of us have to understand that if we maintain physical distance, we don’t need to wear a mask and if we have a mask on, it is not necessary to observe physical distancing,” said Dr Lotay Tshering, the Prime Minister.

And the Opposition Leader blames the Prime Minister for the lapse.

“We have seen crowds in most of the Prime Minister’s campaign events. I think the protocols and regulations should be uniform across the country. In our case, we followed what the Prime Minister and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa initiated. Public meetings had become a norm when I arrived, so we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary,” said Dorji Wangdi, the Opposition Leader.

The Prime Minister said the gatherings have been conducted after assessing the risks of transmission of the disease.

“The Opposition Party blames me for having initiated the gatherings first but I am okay about it. There is no point playing a blame game. We conducted the campaigns firstly because there is no community transmission of coronavirus and secondly, all the attendees are villagers who live in the same community and work together on a daily basis. So the health experts knew that it was safe,” Lyonchhen added.

Nine months since the government pull down the shutters of the entertainment centres and the cinemas to discourage gatherings, owners and employees are still awaiting the government’s reopening green light or a clearer way forward.


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