National Elections: Bhutan Springs a Surprise

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.

Photo: Kuensel
Photo: Kuensel

In the second national elections, Bhutan sprang a surprise by electing the PDP which had just two seats in the last elections with 32 seats out of a total of 47 this time. The former ruling party DPT could manage only 15 out of 45 they had earlier.

This trend could not have been foreseen with the results of the primary elections that went in favour of DPT. The former ruling party had won in 33 constituencies with PDP coming as a distant second with 12 seats and another party DNT with 2 seats.

In terms of overall number of votes, 138,760 voters voted for the PDP while 114,000 voters voted for the former ruling party DPT. The result is stunning indeed considering the fact that the PDP scored only 68,545 in the primaries and now had doubled its score in the final. This is creditable and inexplicable. The PDP retained its stronghold both in the west and south and what is more made deep inroads in the east also! The PDP President Tshering Tobgay in fact went out of the way to tell the easterners that his party will be appointing six ministers from the east if they won to correct the “imbalance”!

What could have gone wrong for the DPT? Prime Minister JYT ( Jigme Thinley) had performed creditably and some say that he did not deserve this. I tend to agree. I am personally unable to make out the reasons for his defeat as people do not change their minds so quickly within a month and a half. But certain observations are relevant here.

* The DPT started off with a negative campaign attacking the PDP on every issue though not putting forth a positive and a substantive view of its own position in the initial stages. On the other hand the PDP being in opposition had many issues to attack the DPT like corruption, poor economy, bad governance etc and this appears to have had an impact on the common voter.

* There was as expected, “blame game” on the deterioration of Indo-Bhutan relations. There was irresponsible mudslinging and dirty politics showing its head with allegations sometimes becoming personal. There were some inappropriate references to the King which was also very unfortunate.

*Too late in the day the two leaders came to an understanding (5th July) not to attack each other that not only showed the two parties in poor light but the country as well.

* Inexplicably, the responsibility for the so-called deterioration of relations between India and Bhutan was placed at the door of the DPT and its President and former PM Thinley. Even Thinley’s meeting with the Chinese Premier in June 2012 was brought into question. This was rather unfair and the inter state relations should not have been an issue at all in the national elections. The persistent and aggressive intrusions of the Chinese and lack of action on the part of Thinley that annoyed India are also being talked about as “reasons.”

* What made it worse was the sudden withdrawal of subsidies by Government of India on July 2nd on two commodities that have a direct impact on the Bhutanese house holds- cooking gas and Kerosene. The External Affairs Ministry in India also notified that subsidies are also being withdrawn on the Power tariff of the Chuka project and excise duty refund. This would result in a loss of 2.5 billion Nu at a time when the economy is in a poor state. The prices of some of the essential commodities are to shoot up over 100 percent. Was it intended by GOI as some would make it out to be due to the “dip in the bilateral trust” between the two countries? Though the Indian authorities claim that the timing of the withdrawal on 2nd July was “coincidental,” one cannot accept this position as the Indian Ambassador in Bhutan and the Joint Secretary North in Delhi would certainly be aware of the impact it would have in Bhutan at this critical juncture. I am reminded of what my friend late Professor Rajbahak from Nepal used to say – “India is useless to friends and harmless to enemies.”

* The PDP in the perception of the voters was seen as the common man’s party and had a definite economic programme. It had specific proposals to improve the economy, a long term solution for meeting the rupee shortage and a loan commission for the smaller sections in the trade. Again too late in the day the DPT came out with specific proposals.

* It looks that in all, the DPT was overconfident while the PDP starting from scratch had to prove itself.

* In my view, it does not matter whether the PDP or the DPT won. It is democracy that has won in Bhutan and India should be happy.

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