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Old rivals cross paths again: DPT and PDP go to the general election
Rabi C Dahal, May 31, 2013
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 Druk PhuensumTshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) go to the general election. DPT, which formed the first democratically elected government in 2008, secured 93,547 votes followed by PDP with 68,546 votes, provisional results showed.

The provisional results showed 55.22 percent voter turnout. Some 210,835 voters cast their votes yesterday, Friday, of which 172,892 voted on the electronic voting machine (EVM) and 37,493 through postal ballot. The votes from a polling station in Wangdue are yet to be tallied. Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) will declare the results officially today.

DPT and PDP will contest a run-off round on July 13 to form the next government and the opposition.

DPT won in 33 constituencies, PDP in 12, DrukNyamrupTshogpa (DNT) in 2 constituencies, and DrukChirwangTshogpa (DCT), which secured the lowest number of votes, didn’t win a single constituency. DNT won 36,055 votes (17.5 percent) and DCT, 12,456 votes (5.9 percent).

Although DCT failed to win at least 10 percent of popular votes, it can still be a registered political party. According to Political Party Rules of Kingdom of Bhutan, the “commission [ECB] shall remove a Political Party’s name from the Register of Political Parties, if it has failed to secure at least ten percent of the total valid votes cast at two successive Primary Rounds of elections to the National Assembly.” If DCT fails to secure 10 percent of total votes cast in another primary round, it will cease to be a political party.

The new parties should be kicking themselves. Even PDP could have won more votes, observers say. People who have been watching political development closely say the new parties and PDP had a better chance. PDP didn’t win a single constituency in the eastern and central Bhutan. PDP president and former opposition leader, who campaigned in almost all the dzongkhags, could not connect with the voters by speaking local languages, which he doesn’t know. A voter from Haa said although TsheringTobgay has politically matured, his party’s pledges are too ambitious for ordinary voters to believe.

DNT, on the other hand, followed a different campaign strategy, which did not work. Instead of connecting with the people with promises of addressing their problems, it only shared with the voters how worried it was about the possibility of “government falling into the hands of the rich and powerful”. Critics say DNT saw only DPT as its opponent and tried to hit at DPT’s image of being the party of “the rich and powerful”, all the while forgetting PDP’s presence. “Undermining PDP’s presence and considering only DPT as their competitor failed them,” said an analyst.

Observers say time was ripe to bring down the mighty DPT this year. The incumbent was vulnerable due to numerous anonymous articles online, a still struggling economy, a high youth unemployment rate, a high court decision that disqualified two incumbent MPs to contest in the election, a Supreme Court verdict on the first constitutional case, urban voter’s concern over alleged corruption scandals, a weak private sector, and a rupee liquidity crunch. The new parties failed in their strategies.

Urban people’s anti-DPT sentiments visible on social media did not make much impact on the bulk of the voters in the rural area. DPT topped the chart both in EVM votes and postal ballots, which showed that it is popular among both the rural and urban voters.

Unlike in 2008, this time the voters were more educated and they knew what they were looking for in the party. Rural voters Bhutan Observer talked to said the DPT government had improved their lives by bringing road, electricity and telecom facilities.

On the eve of the election, when asked how he was feeling, the DPT president Jigme Y Thinley said, “I am fully prepared for any outcome.” He added, “The biggest worry about our democracy is that it might take too long to develop good democratic culture.”

When asked what issues DPT would like to tackle if the party was re-elected, he said, “A country like Bhutan will always have many issues to deal with and how they are prioritized will depend on time.”

The voters Bhutan Observer talked to said they had understood the importance of the primary election. “If we don’t make the right choice, the economic downturn may last for many years, and it would lead to a decline in the quality of life,” said a Thimphu resident, who drove to Haa to cast his vote.

“There are so many pledges in the political parties’ manifestoes but most voters don’t have the time to go through them. We expect a government that can bring about economic growth and happiness to the people,” Bakum, a voter in Punakha, said.

In 2008 general election 169,490 voters voted for DPT that accounted for 67.04 percent and 83,322 or 32.96 percent voted for PDP. In the primary this year, DPT won 44.5 percent of votes while PDP secured 32.6 percent. DPT has lost a chunk of its 2008 support to the new parties.

While the new parties contested on numerous pledges, the people do not seem to have confidence in new parties. “The electorate seems to have less confidence on new comers,” said a member of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party.

After the results had been confirmed, PDP wrote on Facebook, “We would like to congratulate the DPT for making it through the primary round. We would like to acknowledge and thank the DNT and DCT for offering the much needed democratic choice for our people. The PDP would also like to congratulate each and every Bhutanese for going to the polls to vote and for contributing in their own ways.”

DCT on Facebook congratulated “DPT and PDP for making it through to the general round. We would like to wish them all the best! We would also like to thank all the people who supported us wholeheartedly.”

DPT also wrote its message on Facebook: “…[we] would like to thank the people of Bhutan for once again showing to the world the uniqueness, maturity and resilience of Bhutanese democracy which has only turned five years old.”

“Even as Druk NyamrupTshogpa and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa did not make it through this time around, we have the highest of regard for their participation. … we congratulate the People’s Democratic Party for coming through with flying colors. Let’s show to ourselves and the outside world that politicking can be ethical, clean and exemplary by holding up to the highest of standards in the general round.”

A candidate of DNT, NimaTshering, wrote on Facebook: “The people of Bhutan have spoken. The people of Bhutan have won. Congratulations to the two Parties who have been elected by the people, DPT and PDP. We have given our best but the people have chosen the best ones. We have always maintained that democracy is not about political parties or politicians – it’s about our people. In democracy, the people must win. People have won.”

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