The need for party workers is being debated by political parties in the fray although the majority of them are of the opinion that there are two sides to the coin.
According to co-authors Gyembo Sithey and Dr. Tandin Dorji of Drukyul Decides, party workers played a complicated role in the first parliamentary elections. Accusations were exchanged in informal discussions against the media and party workers for disturbing the community structure of Bhutan and even bred corruption.
The book also states that there is no limit to the number of workers a party could employ. Thus the party with greater finances could hire more party workers.
“The first general elections have given a bad reputation to party workers. This distaste has been further confirmed by the local elections during which party workers had a hard time getting non-objection certificates from the election commission for not having fulfilled the one year cooling period,” said Opposition MP Damcho Dorji.
He also commented that supporters of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) felt that they would be targeted by the ruling party since in many instances party supporters complained of perceived discrimination not only by the MPs but also by government officials.
“On the other hand, some supporters of the ruling party felt that they were not being given the same importance accorded to them during the campaigning. They felt cheated. So all in all, I do not think party workers would be as enthusiastic as before.”
Damcho Dorji added that it would take real dedicated supporters to come forward and help PDP this time.
“So definitely we have difficulties finding party workers.”
Meanwhile, the Director of Gross National Happiness Centre (GNHC), Dr Saamdu Chettri said the first experience of appointing party workers has not been nice and people were divided. He however also commented that party workers play an important role in supporting and monitoring MPs. “We cannot do away with party workers.”
Membership fees, contributions and registration fees are the ways a party sustains and are the means to pay party workers. Paying party workers is essential because they are taking out their time to work for the party but it would be wise to pay the party workers only during the election time as it would help to cut down the party expenditure, he said.
MP Damcho Dorji voiced out that the role of party workers is to convince the people why they should vote for the party they are supporting. They play a very important role in garnering support for the party, giving the party a political base in their constituency. Although the campaigning must be done by parties themselves, influential party workers are important for garnering local support, especially in rural areas.
According to spokesperson for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), “We will not pay a salary to the party workers to work on behalf of the party but without party members, the party cannot function.”
The spokesperson also said that the party wants people who genuinely believe in its ideology and support them not just for financial reasons. However, SDP wants to pay party workers only during the campaign period
“There is a big difference between party workers and party members; party workers are the ones hired by the party to work for them while party members are those who truly believe in the ideology of the party,” added the spokesperson.
The spokesperson also admitted that there is a need for employing party workers but the party cannot pay them indiscriminately as there should be a code of conduct for the party workers while conducting their duties.
“They should not misinform the public and should stick to telling the truth.”
While talking to Druk Mitser Tshogpa , the spokesperson, Tandin Tshering, said “ Party workers are indispensible and has a great influence in bridging the gap between people and the MPs so that the party can address the problems of the people.”
Druk Mitser Tshogpa feels that as long as the party charter is strong, members will come forward. The spokesperson also commented that party will not employ tshogpas.
The newly established party has plans to gather their party workers for an education workshop on their dos and don’ts, especially during the campaign period. Regarding the restriction on the number of party workers, the party feels that it should abide by the rules and guidelines of the Election Commission of Bhutan
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa Secretary Thinley Jamtsho shared with The Bhutanese that looking at the present scenario it is difficult to comment on the party workers. Currently, the party has 20 dzongkhag coordinators. However the party has only 60 to 70 gewog coordinators as most of them have resigned and now they need to be replaced for the upcoming elections
“It is difficult to sustain the party and on top of that, paying the party workers is tougher; it would be wiser if people come forward as volunteers.”
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) is also planning to pay during the campaign period only.
“There is no doubt that party workers are a must for any political party or candidate. This is not a one-man show although the credit may be taken by one man. The support of all the people including the so-called apolitical group is needed,” said MP Damcho Dorji.
The Bhutanese talked to an election officer who said there is no hard and fast rule about having party workers but having them is desirable.
“Compared to 2008, the electorate is now more mature and informed,” he said, “Back then, we had so many conflicts concerning party workers because party workers then had limited knowledge about democracy.”
While talking about the financial crunch political parties are facing, he shared that the government is indirectly funding the parties through the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).