While the 2013 elections are an important part of Bhutanese democracy there are also several, less than desirable, political, social, economic and other effects.
In the social sense it is once again a time where communities and families still recovering from the political divisions of 2008 will once again be pitted against each other. Old wounds will be reopened as families and communities across Bhutan get exposed to a dizzying level of political activity and campaigning by the four political parties.
In what is still a largely oral society what comes out in the formal Bhutanese media may be only the tip of the iceberg. So while the readers may read some politically correct quotes, manifesto details and campaigning updates in the newspapers the real political viciousness will be seen in the whispers, gossip and rumors spread by party workers and parties. For example some of the most popular campaign lines of 2008 like “Pha du sa bu, bu du sa tsaho” were never official slogans but spread by party workers with telling effect.
For the government in power, they will be very nervous and jittery like most incumbent governments across the world. This is especially so in a new democracy like Bhutan where a strong and mature democratic culture has not yet been established. In many countries this nervousness of the ruling incumbent may lead to more public relation campaigns, an effort to please its voters and charm offensives to win over its worst detractors. However, in some less fortunate countries like least developed countries in Africa election time is a time to silence critical newspapers, target the opposition, harass ordinary citizens and win at any cost eventually resulting in dictatorships and even coups as the ballot box becomes a farce and people lose faith in democracy and elected leaders.
Bhutan is a new and vulnerable democracy but we can take heart in democratic institutions like an impartial Election Commission, Free media, ACC, RAA etc.
Apart from the case of political nerves for the ruling dispensation there will be many economic interests and business houses also vying for influence. In any country elections are fought mainly on economic issues.
However, some big business houses will also back political parties whom they feel will protect their interests, give easy approvals for their business projects and open up state resources. In countries like Russia when certain new groups and new families get too powerful due to their political links, oligarchies are formed and the resources of the state like mines, land and oil are carved up between them. In Bhutan it is a sad reality that some established or upcoming businesses houses are increasingly looking for political patronage for which they are willing to provide direct and indirect support during and after elections.
In rural Bhutan as in 2008 the role of local governments also cannot be ruled out in influencing voters. As in 2008 parties will be vying for the support or at least indirect approval of local Gups, Mangmis and Tshogpas who serve the local government. Despite the efforts of the ECB, politicization of the local government is already happening and will in fact be at a larger scale than in 2008 creating it’s own set of problems.
The role of the civil service will be important in the elections. However, as in any democracy politicians have big say in the promotion, transfer, posting and termination of senior civil servants. So though the large body of ordinary civil servants will vote exercising their democratic rights as ordinary citizens some senior civil servants will be awaiting the elections results with bated breath as they may feel, rightly or wrongly that their future careers depend on it.
In some developing countries the ruling government completely takes over the state TV station with various advertisements and programs that focuses on political figures or on their achievements. It will be interesting to note what will happen in Bhutan as our national broadcaster has not been given a Public Broadcaster Service status (e.g. BBC) and also no autonomous funding.
However, despite the above many potential problems and uncertainties the one institution that can act as the ultimate guarantor of stability and continuity is the Monarchy. This is especially so since virtually every other democratic institution including the media can be tampered with or fixed by political parties and any government.
If democracy for a host of reasons does fail in Bhutan the only institution that can ensure good governance, peace, security, unity and the sovereignty of Bhutan in a dangerous neighborhood is the Monarchy.