It has always been recognized that the North Thimphu by-election is no ordinary by-election coming just around 20 months before the big General Election of 2018.
While the PDP and DPT did not say so, their actions spoke louder than words in the strong campaign launched by both the parties, with DPT trying to keep its seat and PDP working to win it over.
On the ground, it cannot be disputed that be it in 2008 or 2013 Thimphu has always been a DPT stronghold. This is because a lot of the original leadership and idea behind the very formation of DPT came up in Thimphu along with the support of some influential local figures.
Moreover, with only 20 months left for the General Elections, PDP actually had the heavier anti-incumbency baggage.
This is why the landslide win by PDP in North Thimphu is significant not just for the win but in the sheer scale of the win in the vote percentage and winning all 14 polling stations.
As said by this paper a week before the results were out, the North Thimphu result, whatever it is, will also be a report card on both the parties.
The result shows that, as suspected by many, PDP, as of now, seems to be the strongest contender for the 2018 polls. The party since coming to power in 2013 has been markedly different in both style and substance from the earlier government.
It has racked up a host of achievements mainly in the field of the economy by stabilizing the rupee and credit crisis, removing import bans, helping bring down loan interest rates etc. This has been combined with keeping a clean image and avoiding the proverbial scam or scams and running a clean show.
The Prime Minister and PDP Party President is a good mascot for the original 2008 PDP slogan of ‘Service with Humility,’ showing an amazing ability to connect with the masses and their issues.
One strongly whispered initial criticism of the Prime Minister was doubts on his ‘leadership abilities’ especially in comparison to his predecessor. However, over the years the PM has pleasantly shown that there is another type of leadership possible in Bhutan be it in filling sandbags until late at night in Phuntsholing to stop floodwaters or regularly picking up public trash on his way to work. This ‘bottom up leadership approach’ of standing in solidarity with the common masses is what has also greatly helped PDP to build a positive brand image.
At the local level, despite not winning in North Thimphu twice a host of developmental activities carried out in North Thimphu by the current government appears to have gone down well.
On the other hand not only the North Thimphu loss but also its sheer magnitude shows that DPT is in deep trouble and is continuing to slide downwards.
Voters, it seems, have not forgiven DPT for its mistakes between 2008-2013 of which the two main issues were the economy and their style of governance which lead to multiple controversies.
Its gravest mistake, however, was post 2013 in its party meeting in July that shook at the very foundations of Bhutan both as a country and as a society. It seems now, more clear than ever, that the actions of that day has so tainted the party image that no amount of talk or feigning as if nothing happened on the day will ever help the party.
DPT may put forward its defense but it becomes more difficult to do so when its own founder Party President and its most promising MP and future leader have resigned in quick succession.
For the new parties watching on the sidelines, suddenly 2018 is alight with new possibilities.
Ultimately the Bhutanese voters in their collective wisdom have spoken.
“I am a firm believer in the people.”