Bhutan currently has five registered political parties and if talks doing the rounds are to be believed, two more are in the making, taking the number to seven.
Till now, we have believed that in politics, the more the merrier. It also goes with the underlying democratic principle of more options for the voters and stronger competition: the best party wins.
However, while we may think this is so, there are a number of ground realities that we face: first, Bhutan is a very small country with limited voter base and too many political parties could mean fragmentation of voter base on lines of ethnic, cultural and familial divide.
Secondly, Bhutanese political parties do not have much new to offer in terms of campaign promises and pledges mainly because unlike in bigger nations, they do not cater to select target groups, and voters here comprise the general citizenry.
Third, state funding for political parties will be massive with increased number of political parties and the funding pie will have to be divided among stronger parties and parties without ideologies as strong or those having not the best of candidates.
Also, we have to understand the dynamics of party candidates: hypothetically, seven parties would mean 329 candidates, all with minimum qualification of a university degree. This too, barring the National Council elections, which would require 20 candidates.
The figure: 300 plus could make up a whole student body in a school. Would all the parties get required number of candidates with desired qualification and qualities?
Right now, even the established parties reportedly are having a tough time mobilizing candidates for the upcoming elections, leave alone the newbies. We are talking about viability here.
Further, formulating attractive yet convincing party manifestoes can pose major challenges: the ruling and former governments have failed to fulfill some basic pledges though many other pledges have seen fruition. And we wonder what new promises the political parties will offer this time round? In fact, ideologies seem to be blurring now itself and promises turning redundant.
While we cannot prescribe a ceiling to the number of parties that Bhutan should have, the authorities namely the Election Commission of Bhutan would do well to tread the arena carefully: put in place stringent filtering procedures so that voters will have the best parties to choose from: in terms of ideology, manifesto and candidates among others.
Some new political parties have already been going around making high claims and seeking media attention but it lies up to the commission to discern, sift and make the right moves.
While ideally, in a democracy, more political parties should definitely be encouraged, we need to consider the issue in the context of Bhutan as well.
Bhutan has been a democracy less than a decade, and it would augur well for the country especially to educate and create awareness among voters: about the importance of voting, and making decisions based on clear, level-headed thinking.
As the elections draw nearer, fear and rumor-mongering, slandering, character and image assassination is expected to increasingly dominate the air, especially social media.
As voters, we must understand that low-hand political tactics are just that: low. We must also understand that we have a variety of choices before us, and we need to educate ourselves and be aware of whom we elect because we are giving elected leaders power over us and the nation’s resources.
It is important that we choose wisely. When voters are not ignorant of the implications of an event the magnitude of an election, political parties will naturally also take pains to offer diversity in formation, candidates and party pledges. They will be guarded about how they come across to voters therefore ensuring quality check on candidates. And admit it; the most important element about a party is arguably its candidates: they will be planning and executing decisions for the people.
Elected leaders should remember that they are responsible to those who voted for them: with their positions, they should adhere to high principles and values, always looking for ways to set a standard precedent in their words and actions.
Meanwhile, we should exercise the right of franchise responsibly because it has come at great costs and will define the state and course of the nation.