For the 2013 National Assembly’s primary election, the political scientists and soothsayers had predicted Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) as the clear leader. DPT was seen likely to secure more than 40%. DrukNyamrupTshogpa (DNT) was predicted to stand second by securing over 30% of the votes, whereas People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was predicted to secure the third highest vote count by securing more than 20%, followed by DrukChirwangTshogpa (DCT) securing less than 10% votes.
As predicted, the DPT won by securing 44.5% of the total 210,835 votes followed by PDP’s 32.5%, DNT’s 17.5% and DCT’s 5.9%. Overall, the voter turnout was just over 55%, which is lower by almost 24.3% of the 2008 general election.
Almost all the central and eastern voters chose DPT, except in Thrimshing constituency from where DNT’s president comes. Over five years, at least the people of Thrimshing seem to have learned a lesson from their previous mistake of rejecting DNT president, then a PDP candidate, and electing the young DPT candidate.
The DPT kept in touch with the grassroots. All the influential rural people are under its grip. They have always made sure that their presence was felt, even in the far-flung pockets. As an incumbent party, it attracted most of the semi-literate and reliable people of the 20 districts as their key party coordinators.
DPT fielded the most influential people as their party candidates in whichever constituencies they found necessary by launching intelligent strategies. They seem to have persuaded the rural electorate, through their party workers, ever since they came to power in 2008. The party workers attempted to convey to the illiterate electorate that only DPT can bring peace, prosperity, stability, security, and development to the nation, which is utterly wrong.
DPT’s hyperbolic claims of achievements may have further helped them get through to the general election. Its assertion of impressive reduction of unemployment and poverty rates, the increased per capita income, and the stable macroeconomic situation, among others, further assured DPT a place in the general election. DPT’s charismatic and dynamic leadership, along with seasoned candidates and members, surely won the confidence of the voters.
It was observed that other parties faced difficulty in ‘decolonizing’ or turning around the colonized minds of the people, especially the rural electorate of eastern and central regions, which have substantial number of voters (47%). And that surely made notable impact in the primary. In terms of physical infrastructure development, the focus had been shifted towards these regions. The electorate of these regions does not seem politically mature compared to those from other regions. Thus, the opposition and the other parties found it difficult to convince them about the need to have alternative ideologies and government.
The advantage of being incumbent during the election was clearly demonstrated during the campaign period. The primary election had revealed the political and democratic immaturity and lack of awareness among most central and eastern rural voters. The trend shows that not much difference can be made in shifting the mindset of the voters of the central and eastern regions.
The rural people’s limited understanding of the democratic principles left enough room for the former ruling party to be on the advantageous side. The rural electorate’s assessment on the performance of the democratic government was entirely different from that of the civil servants, corporate employees, and elites. DPT banks on the support of the rural people.
The DNT and DCT were spearheaded by women presidents which did not go down well with the conservative electorate. Bhutanese society is still patriarchal and male-chauvinistic. Stereotyping against women still exists. Besides, people do not seem to place trust in the new faces, as opposed to tried and tested faces. They were not so well known in the public domain like the DPT president and leaders who have been holding ministerial portfolios for decades.
DPT, in its tenure, not only secured the country’s sovereignty and independence, but also built relationships with many foreign countries, and has consolidated relationship with India. It also made commendable progress in socio-economic fields. Therefore, many voters seem to have unshakable faith in the DPT leadership.
However, many things were expected to twist and turn around as all the voters were flooded with different promises and ideologies by the two parties. Most of the civil servants and educated lot thought that there was a need for the change of government. They consider that the success of democracy is not measured in terms of the number of physical infrastructure like roads, bridges, and electrification, but by how well the government of the day respected the rule of law, by looking at the quality of infrastructure and judicious investments of the country’s limited resources. Many of the informed, educated and liberal civil servants believe that democratic roots are yet to grow in Bhutan as opposed to the assertion of the government. They say more could have been done.
Most of the informed, educated elites disagree with many of the decisions bulldozed by the government. They perceive that the government had not done enough to improve the macro economic situation that the country was going through. The debt situation fueled by the DPT’s ambitious economic model was a huge concern among them. Despite being apolitical, most of the civil servants and the bureaucrats were concerned about the democratic governance and were dissatisfied.
Democracy must empower the electorate in decision-making processes. The government in power was seen as authoritarian. The gap between the haves and the have-nots seem to have widened. The claims of government’s achievements in its last five years had been strongly questioned by the informed, educated lot. The real situation of unemployment, poverty, rural to urban migration, youth problems, macroeconomic situations, corruptions are in contrast to what the government of the day claimed.
The informed and educated think that dynastic democracy is on the verge of taking its roots. It is seen as detrimental to the true democracy. As they are the most reliable and credible segment of the Bhutanese society, they were expected to make substantial impact on the historic primary election. However, 37,943 postal ballots had become negligible of the 210,835 total votes cast in the primary round. Of course, 21,673 postal ballots went against DPT out of the total 37,943.
The most surprising one about the primary election result was when DNT, the party rated next to DPT, could not pass through to the general round. What went wrong with DNT, and went well with PDP? Of course, both of them and DCT were found no match to DPT in almost all spheres. Level playing field wasn’t there in most cases. Nevertheless, the popularity of DNT wasn’t so bad ever since it was established and appeared in the media and public. It was projected to be the real contender in the primary election. DNT itself was confident, as they were popular among the informed and educated and the liberal group. They stood so popular in both the social and mainstream media up until the presidential debate and the campaign.
The PDP president was found bold and confident in the presidential debate. He had proven to be the real leader who can be given the prime ministerial position. He was seen as fearless. He spoke his heart. He promised tangible things to the people. He performed well amongst the four presidents during the debate. Though the smallest opposition in the world, it carried out its duties and responsibilities beyond expectations. PDP secured 32.98% votes against DPT’s landslide 67.02% of the total 252,672 votes cast in 2008. No doubt PDP was the first political party established in 2007. Indeed, PDP’s presence was more than DNT’s, next to DPT.
DNT was banking on the informed and educated lot who are expected to influence the general electorate. DNT took things for granted, and did not do enough ground work in the rural areas, as they were relying on the corporate-private employees and civil servants to campaign on their behalf. They could not catch hold of the key strategic people who could have influenced the electorate. They were not able to penetrate the colonized minds of the rural electorate. No tangible promises were made to garner votes. DNT paid heavily for being so sincere and unrealistic. At the eleventh hour, everything seemed to have changed. Of the 37,943 postal votes, almost 36% (13,629) went for PDP against DNT’s 19% (7,163).
Apart from the PDP and DNT who were seen as the main competitors to get through to the final along with DPT, DCT was seen as the weakest party. The party comprised of literally young bunch of fresh candidates spearheaded by the unmarried and headstrong young woman president. As the people have reservations about the young, they didn’t trust DCT’s capacity to carry the supposedly heavy responsibility.
The voters spoke in no uncertain terms that neither the young nor women are worthy of shouldering the heavy responsibility.
All views are my own and they don’t represent any individual or organization.
By Pema Thinley