Remembering the first aerial election campaign in Bhutan


Taksi-maka, Laya [Photo by Khandu, BO]

Exactly 3 years today, on April 23, 2013, votes were cast for the 2nd national elections, the National Council elections to be more precise.
As I reminisce today, in particular looking at this picture, I am reminded of just how positive an experience it can be, even, if it is an election.

Bhutan Broadcasting Service ran a news story around the campaign as it was the FIRST time that candidates were using a helicopter during an election campaign in Bhutan. Interestingly, even though it focussed on collaboration and positivity, for some reason, the news had to blurr our faces. Thinking back now, it appears rather weird. All three candidates, after agreement were travelling together on the same helicopter, so by having allowed the story to run without any sensoring would have had no issues. Anyway, the reason I am writing is not to complain about the past but really, to share share a bit about just how the 1st helicopter election campaign happened.

We were three contestants; Yeshi Dorji from khamed gewog, Tenzin from Laya gewog and me from khatoe gewog. The challange was to make it across the snow and ice closed high passes into Lunana for the public forum debate (non-optional). It was around the same season and remember, just a few days ago we sent teachers to Lunana using helicopter. While accessibility remained the greatest challenge because of which election officials always used helicopters to fly in and fly out of lunana, hiking in and out under the frigid weather conditions would have been very time consuming even if not life threatening. So as we moved about with election officials, speaking at public debates and working our way up from lower Gasa, I made a suggestion to Yeshi (who had never been to Lunana before) about pooling our resources together and chartering a helicopter. The next few days were lost in communicating with the helicopter service provider and negotiating an affordable price and well within the limits of funding provided by the Election Commission of Bhutan. By the time we had reached Laya, I had managed to bargain an acceptable price but we were really stretching our limited resources as we still had other election campaign expenses. Meanwhile, after several phone calls as we hiked, to the Election Commission of Bhutan in Thimphu and a meeting finally that allowed us the use of a helicopter. We then drew up and signed an undertaking concerning risks associated with air travelling and by then Tenzin, who had initally planned on hiking to Lunana had also agreed to fly together. With the three of us in agreement, the monetary pressure in paying off the bill was manageable and so, after a good and joivial public forum address, early the next morning we descended to taksi-maka where the helicopter flew in to fly us out to lunana.

The negotiated amount for drop off and pick up was as minimal as possible (for which I remain thankful to aue Ratu for making it possible) and the result was, we only had ONE night in lunana. So the early flight that took a little over 25 minutes was planned ahead and lunana informed. We hit the ground running as they say; the public forum was ready and waiting as we landed, we walked straight to the gathering, taking time only to quickly drop down our bag packs and wiping dust off our faces from the landing on the sandy river bank. After the address there, we quickly proceeded to the next forum and by night fall, with little torches in our hands, we were making our way to the southern part of Lunana where we would make statements early the next morning before our ride arrived.

The next morning, as the last speaker was addressing the gathering, the loud noice of the helicopter blades cutting through the air began to grow louder. After what seemed like an impossible task to continue talking as it landed (the rotor had to be kept going I was told for safety reasons because of the cold and very thin air), the forum was concluded. We quickly picked up our bags that were lying next to us and made our way towards the helicopter to fly back to Gasa and to continue campaining, for me and Yeshi. Tenzin stayed back and decided to hike back; his relatives and friends were on their way to Lunana on foot we were told. He spend several days in Lunana and was glad when he made it back to Laya without any mishaps. The experience and opportunity, to pool our resources and to do what was going to be the first time, remains a beautiful memory. It was one of several positive experiences of an election. Our returning officer who accompanied us shared the the same view too with us later. We had a great and enjoyable election campaign. I had the great luck of having two nice co-contestants in Yeshi and Tenzin, and ofcourse a wonderful team of officials working for our elections. Thank you all; a bit late but better late than never.

It is 3 years exactly today that the election reached its outcome but, I still remember vividly the learning that one experiences during this critical process of campaigning; reaching out to constituents and giving them hope. Three years down, I can only hope that the hope that we sparked has continued and grown into a flame that has brought them some light in their lives. The struggle is on; to be of service as we often say.


About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
This entry was posted in Election, General. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Remembering the first aerial election campaign in Bhutan

  1. Dasho la, I may not know you politically but i feel i do know Dasho as down to earth , all eared for the people’s needs thereby being loyal to Tsa wa sum. I wish for all the success you been planning for the benefit of Tsa wa sum la.

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