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Primaries 2008-18: an analysis

The primary round in the parliamentary elections is a crucial and important battle ground for political parties as it is the preliminary election to narrow down political parties in preparation for the final general round. Yesterday, the outcome of the primary elections 2018 were declared which saw Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) coming trumps up while Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were knocked out.

Political parties

Bhutanese democracy in 2008 began with two political parties, DPT and PDP. The third party, Bhutan People United Party (BPUP), was denied registration by the ECB in November 2007 on grounds that it had insufficient membership and lacked credible leadership.

In the second parliamentary elections in 2013, the number of parties rose to five with the emergence of three new political parties, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) but BKP was disqualified due to a lack of candidates in the two constituencies in Gasa.

Elections 2018 saw four parties: DPT, BKP, PDP and DNT while DCT deregistered as a party and was not eligible for campaign fund from the state since it did not garner 10% of the popular vote during the last elections.

Druk Gaki Tshogpa (DGT) led by a former engineer, Chheku Dukpa also known as Jackson Dukpa was rejected by ECB as DGT’s party ideology was found to be too general and it was not clear how the substantive task of national development was envisioned plus the party appeared unprepared for a national mandate.

Elections, results and voters

On April 21, 2007, a mock election was held to prepare Bhutan for the forthcoming change to democracy. The parties “contesting” the election were the Druk Blue Party, the Druk Green Party, the Druk Red Party and the Druk Yellow Party each representing certain values as their ‘party manifesto’ and the two parties winning the most votes were to proceed for general round scheduled for May 24, 2007.

In 2008, it was only two parties contesting: DPT and PDP so they went directly to the finals on May 24, 2008 where DPT won a landslide victory in 45 constituencies and 67% of the votes while PDP received 33% of the votes, winning just two seats in the parliament.

On March 5, 2008, the ECB announced that the final number of registered voters for the National Assembly elections was 318,465. The total voter turnout was 79.38% with 865 polling stations across the country.

In 2008, there were 157,296 male registered voters and 161,169 female.

During the 2013 primary elections, DNT secured 17.04% of votes; it finished third but could not participate in the general elections. DCT just managed to obtain 5.90% of votes in the primary round.

DPT won in the primary round 2013 with 44.5% against 32.5% by PDP; however, the party suffered a defeat in the general election with 45.1% votes against 54.9% to the PDP.

PDP won the second elections securing 32 seats in the NA while DPT obtained15 seats in the general round of the elections in 2013.

DPT received 16,270 postal ballots while PDP obtained 13,629 postal ballots during the primary round.

There were a total of 381,790 registered voters with 187,917 male voters and 193,873 female in 2013. The total voter turnout was 66.13% with 850 polling stations during the primary round in 2013.

In the primaries 2018, DNT led the primary round receiving 37,556 postal ballots and obtaining 55, 166 votes via EVM taking the total to 92,722. DPT stood second with 36,912 postal ballots and 53,108 votes via EVM bringing the total to 90,020 votes.

PDP secured 79,883 votes including 23,703 postal ballots and 56,180 votes via EVM. BKP could only manage 28,481 votes which included 10,409 postal ballots and 18,072 votes via EVM.

A total of 291,098 (147,070 females and 144,028 males) voters, 66.36% of the total registered voters in the country, cast their votes this time round.

Female candidates

In 2008, DPT fielded four female candidates while PDP had six women participating. There were 10 women candidates in total. Four women were elected to NA representing 14% of the parliament.

In 2013, four women candidates were elected- three from PDP and one from DPT which saw 8% of women election. The first female minister was appointed by PDP.

Currently, DNT has five women candidates, making up 10.85% of the candidature. Two women candidates represented PDP, making 4.25%. DPT has five women candidates. BKP had six women candidates, including the party president Neten Zangmo.

Voices 

Business Bhutan spoke to some of the people who have been following election closely and asked them about election and party trends.

Founder and President of Loden Foundation Dr. Karma Phuntsho said that the number of parties may have increased but ideologically, Bhutanese political parties have not become much different or better than in 2008.

“They still go about bandying the same or similar slogans and rhetoric. The parties seem to have only moved more towards the populist right, just as politics in many other parts of the world has. There is not a great deal of difference in their approach to human development.”

However, he added that there are early signs that ideological differences may emerge in the future. Some are thought to be more associated with big businesses while others are seen to campaign more for transparency and socio-economic equality, some are seen to argue more for self-determination than others, and some seen to be more conservative in economic development while others appear to be more liberal.

“The numbers of pledges and promises have increased enormously. This increase in the number of pledges and baits to woo voters seems to betray their poor commitment to bring systematic changes. None of the parties, for instance, even raises questions about the constraining nature of our election process. Meanwhile Bhutanese electorate seems to have matured to see through some of the false promises and empty rhetoric,” he added.

According to the former Executive Director of Bhutan Media Foundation, Dawa Penjor now a businessman, more number of political parties contesting the primary is an improved state of democracy. “This is a sign that the people understand that in a vibrant democracy, multiple voices are necessary to make informed choices. It is also a sign of the growth of people’s understanding to partake in democratic process,” he said.

While Sonam Tshering, a faculty with Jigme Singye Wangchuk Law College said over the two elections, voters have gained more knowledge and understanding of democracy. “The political parties and politicians have learnt and become more mature and improved themselves in understanding His Majesty’s long term vision of building a unique and vibrant democracy.  In 2008, two parties, 2013-four parties and 2018-four parties, mean more choice,” he said.

Further he mentioned that “it is not the number of parties that matters but the kind of parties we have.”

He said that there is no doubt that more parties means more choice but it also means increased negative impacts of political differences.

“It also means parties have the challenge to find equally capable candidates to contest for the elections. Therefore, though it is good to have more parties, having good parties is equally important.”

Samten Yeshi, a former journalist currently studying Cultural Heritage policy, research and management in Budapest, Hungary thinks four parties is good enough for the time being and is already a good number for people to choose from. “More political parties may mean more choices, but I think we need good choices not many choices. And I believe that strengthening electoral systems to ensure free and fair elections and developing a good electoral culture can assure good choices,” he said.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu

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