Though long discussed and speculated, the government’s move to initiate an early dissolution of the National Assembly before 20th April has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons.
The government’s main reason is that without doing this the biggest losers would be the electorate who would not be as enthused to vote during the heavy monsoon rains of July 2013. The other reason is that there would be delay in the planning for the 11th plan.
However, political parties of all hue and color are not entirely convinced that the government is having early polls only for the above reasons.
There is a strong feeling among them that the main reason for having early polls is to win an outright victory by not giving the new parties enough time to be known by the people. The parties, therefore, feel that the 2013 race will not be a fair one, at least for them.
The governments monsoon argument holds some water as heavy rains will not only cut of some roads, but it will also be a disincentive for some voters to vote.
However, even if the Parliament is dissolved in March or early April voters will anyhow have to face the monsoon which starts from late May onwards. This is keeping in mind the three month election period normally given by the Election Commission.
Therefore the government’s monsoon reason though true is a half truth.
The 11th plan delay reason also has some substance as it is only after an elected government is in power that the real nature of the 11th plan can take shape.
However, the 11th plan is in the final stages of preparation and would be ready before the government demits office. Many of the activities can start even before any elected government comes in. The best example is the 10th plan which did not undergo any significant changes even after an elected government came in.
In fact, political parties in 2008 modeled their manifestos in line with what was realistically possible in the 10th plan. A new government can always come in and add to the existing targets. The 11th plan is also a consultative document based on the actual and pressing needs of the people.
While the government and political parties may have their own arguments, there is no denying that early polls will put the new parties at a strong disadvantage against the incumbent.
People in the villages barely know the names of the new parties leave alone the candidate’s names. The Opposition party, which is in a better position than the new parties, will also be at a disadvantage since it is still in the process of rebuilding the party after the strong defeat it suffered in 2008.
The government’s current move to hold early elections is a part of a series of steps taken in the last one year and especially the last few months to secure a strong upper hand in the elections.
For a Prime Minister, who spent the majority of his travel time in foreign capitals, the last few months has seen him finishing a whirl wind tour of the Dzongkhags and rural areas.
The tour basically consisted of the PM taking credit for the activities of the 10th plan, promising more in the 11th plan, and blaming others for anything that had not gone right. Many have argued that the nature, tone, language and style of the tour were equivalent to a mini election campaign funded by government resources. Though the official reason given was to assess the 10th plan’s completion the tour was replete with the PM countering corruption allegations and making promises for the next five years. The fact that one person from each household were forced to attend zomdus and received an uncharacteristic tokha has also raised eyebrows.
The Prime Minister also recently met with other important constituencies like Dzongdas, Gups, Editors and Civil servants.
One major factor in any election race is the Media which ultimately informs the people. With elections approaching the government since the last one year has taken a strong line against critical media.
A secret circular published by this paper and others showed that the government had given clear instructions to stop advertisement to this paper for its investigative story on the ruling party’s Vice President.
Over the last one year the circular has had a chilling effect on critical journalism as editors and reporters think twice before running any critical stories on the government.
New TV stations, that would have played an important role in the elections, were delayed by the government ensuring that the government owned and subsidized national broadcaster continued its monopoly on the airwaves.
A culmination of the government’s actions including the early dissolution of the Parliament raises the question if the 2013 race is going to be a fair one.