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Will women voters vote for female candidates?

Despite women attempting for better representation in politics, female candidates do not get enough votes from women voters. This was evident in the past two elections. However, what will happen in the upcoming election is a wait and watch show. Can female candidates bank on female voters?

On March 5, 2008, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) announced that the final number of registered voters for the National Assembly elections were 318,465. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) then nominated six women and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) nominated four. Four women were elected to the National Assembly, where 14% women won.

Then in 2013 elections, four female candidates were elected – three from PDP and one from DPT. The total number of women participation from both the parties were 10, which saw just 8% of the women elected; though a female cabinet minister was elected and appointed for the first time. There were 205,247 women voters against 196,902 male voters in 2013, according to the ECB.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has now declared five women candidates, making up 10.85% of the candidature. Two women candidates will represent PDP, making 4.25% of candidature. DPT has five women candidates. BKP has six women candidates, including the party president Neten Zangmo.

The ECB has registered 438,663 voters for the election as of July, 2018 of which 224,550 are female registered voters. A total of 18 women candidates and with 9.57% of women participation are there for the 2018 elections.

Meanwhile, most people that Business Bhutan interviewed say, irrespective of gender, voting was mainly done looking at a candidate’s credibility, competency and qualification with personalities. Nonetheless, there also perceptions that men are better and capable leaders than women, and women are not capable to be leaders or politicians.

A female corporate employee said the vote banks do not discriminate any gender and it’s the capability of an individual that drives the voting.

“I am a woman and I would be happy to vote for a woman, provided I find her capable,” she added.

Another female journalist pursuing her Masters in Australia, Tara Limbu said one cannot blame just women voters for not supporting women when it comes to women not occupying important political portfolios.

“A majority of Bhutanese voters, irrespective of gender, understandably are resistant to change. There are so many reasons, history included, which has created a vacuum when it comes to women leaders in the country,” she added.

A radio jockey, Sumitra Pradhan, says that women should now come forward.

“Women are the problem; they are given the platform but don’t grab the opportunity and underestimate their own capability. Especially in rural areas, women’s notion about women being inferior should be changed. They are self-doubter. They should take a chance and stand,” she added.

A cultural researcher with Loden Foundation, Samten Yeshi said there is no such logic that women should vote for women and men for men.

“Every candidate or any individual wishing to earn merit of leadership shall present their leadership capabilities. They should have enough capabilities backed by strategies that can move the voters to their side,” he added.

A 34-year-old private employee, Zangmo said, “In some cases, it might be true while in some it might not. Vote of a woman depend on the candidature and for me it is their personality and courage. The upcoming female candidates should be bold, bring in realistic strategies and be action-oriented instead of just making promises.”

A NGO employee, Tenzin Rabgye, said he does not agree that Bhutanese women don’t vote for women. “They probably haven’t been comfortable with the candidates that have been presented until now. I think it’s more a question of women who can convince voters that they are the best option.”

A travel agent, Chimi Delker said women candidates need to be more vocal and more confident and be able to convince the people they seek votes from.

A Sherubtse graduate, Sonam Yonten Gyeltshen, said, “Bhutan is not generally considered to be suffering from women oppressive society. It however is largely patriarchal just as the majority of the world.”

Within SAARC countries, Bhutan has only 8.3% women in national politics – the fifth in the region – albeit proclaiming itself as a gender neutral country.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu