All political parties lately have been bragging about the deluge of crowds that have been pouring in at their party conventions. And going by the numbers, if it were some real indications, almost all political parties seem to be on an equal footing with an equal support base.
The political battle has begun for now in terms of numbers, but will the crowds at the party convention really translate to actual votes during the election? Does the turnout of crowds at party convention really indicate support to that particular party and will it determine the fate of that party in the upcoming election?
Certain sceptics feel that the crowds each party garnered may be due to astroturfing (the practice of hiring paid crowds) to show off the support the party has or has been receiving, while others into politics and following politics closely say crowds at party conventions have nothing to do with actual votes during the election.
A senior journalist and the writer and founder of Yallamma Writing Company, Jurmi Chhowing, said the crowd says nothing in terms of preference as all four parties drew an equal number.
“Hence, it must be considered neutral. But for democratic participation it says a lot. It says people are interested to know, hear and see upfront what’s being served. This might augur well for democracy, but not for the parties as there’s a maturity about the electoral process and participation,” he said.
“The days of knee-jerk support might be reaching an end. This is also because of the strength and show of the two newer parties. In a democratic set-up, the more the merrier and this will impact how it all plays out. And good news for check and balance,” he added.
Freelance journalist Rabi C Dahal also feels that the crowds won’t translate to votes.
“Studies have also shown that crowds at political gatherings are attracted by a variety of things ranging from political ideology; message; expectation; the candidate; the inducements offered by those seeking their votes.”
Further, he said the attendance at the political rallies is not forced, but voluntary; therefore, the parties feel that people they are seeing are likely to turn out as voters for parties convening the rallies. “No political parties have so far spelt out their manifestos and there are no signs of voter apathy.”
Meanwhile, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) was the first political party to have its party convention in Thimphu.
DNT’s Bartsham-Shongphu constituency candidate, Tenzin Lekphell, said he does not agree that the huge number of crowd support during the convention would mean votes.
“But it is all about how a party can inspire, purpose of the party, candidates able to connect with people and the hard work of both the president of the party and the candidates are the elements based on which votes can be achieved but not by the crowds,” he added.
He said, “Gathering a crowd is easy but election should be determined by the messages the party sends and being able to bring in the change people are looking for.”
Similarly, a former teacher trainer and lecturer, Kuenga Tenzin Dorji, said it’s childish to postulate election outcomes from turnout at conventions.
“Some people attend conventions just for free lunch. Some attend all conventions just to show their faces to the party heads and appease them. Some attend more than one convention in order to gauge each party. I fall in that category,” he said.
“If we want to talk numbers, the only numbers that truly count are the number of votes. Therefore, I say that speculating election outcome from attendance numbers is nothing short of childish,” he added.
And while the crowd does give some sense of confidence, former National Council member Jigme Rinzin, now a candidate of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party contesting from Nanong-Shumar constituency in Pemagatshel, said it cannot be taken into as count of votes.
”Till the last vote count is done, nothing can be said. Crowd is not everything,” he added.
Another former journalist Samten Yeshi attributed the increasing crowd in every party meeting to improved understanding of democracy among the voters.
“Now people have understood little well than before about party politics and democracy, and why should people attend every party meetings. Therefore, I think it rather shows people are improving their understanding of democracy and party politics,” he added.
However, DNT’s North Thimphu candidate Dechen Wangmo said for different reasons people attend political rallies and that only they can tell the reasons.
“In today’s political environment I feel it is hard to make any prediction. Our people have learned and matured over the last two terms. Going by Facebook post and if crowd and number of people attending the convention are any indication then we already know the answer. But being new to politics I truly wish we have more platform at the gewog level to share and discuss with our voters so that they are able to know the candidate and more importantly also understand the competency of the candidate,” she said.
A faculty with Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, Sonam Tshering, also said it’s not necessarily that it will determine the faith in the party.
“Democracy in Bhutan is still in nascent stage and some people may be joining conventions only to understand what each party can offer. It can also be members from other parties keeping an eye on what other parties intend to offer. I think, ultimately, it will be manifesto and kind of candidates each party has and of course how they are perceived by people particularly during the final campaign and more so how each candidate has network,” he added.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu