If the 2013 primary and general election rounds established one thing, then it was on how the primary results and the trends within it can dictate the the general election results.
At the same time, the 2018 primary rounds have also thrown by new dynamics and developments of its own which also have to be factored in to gauge the possible outcomes of the 2018 general round.
The 2013 lessons
In order to get an idea of what is happening in the 2018 elections it is important to study and understand the 2013 primary results and the resultant general round results.
In the 2013 Primary round results DPT got 93,949 votes (44.5%), PDP got 68,650 votes (32.5%), DNT got 35,962 votes (17%) and DCT got 12,457 votes (5.9%).
A total of 211,018 votes were cast of the 381,790 total registered voters leading to a 55.3% turnout. Of the total votes cast, the postal ballot votes were 37,943 votes.
The results not only lead to DPT and PDP getting through but also led many at the time to predict a second term for DPT.
However, The Bhutanese newspaper at the time made a different prediction that if DNT and to an extent DCT voters largely voted for PDP then DPT was in serious trouble.
This is because of the 33 seats won by DPT in the 2013 primary round there were 12 seats where mostly DNT voters called the shots.
These 12 seats combined with the 12 that PDP already won would mean 24 seats which is the required majority to form a government.
What helped PDP was that the votes received by DNT and DCT were seen as votes of change and this would be a deciding factor when the choice in the general round was narrowed between DPT and PDP.
Another big factor was that in the 2013 general elections an additional 41,467 voters turned out on the general election poll day pushing up the total vote count to 252,485 and turnout to 66.1%. Of the 252,485 total voters the postal ballot votes were 44,259.
Clearly even the majority of the 41,467 additional voters in the general round wanted change and voted for it accordingly.
The result was visible in the general election results with PDP making huge gains to get 138,558 votes (54.9%) and DPT not being able to significantly increase its tally getting 113,927 votes (45.1%).
So these 2013 primary and general election round dynamics will have to be kept in mind to get a reading of the general round in 2018.
Reading 2018 from the 2013 pattern
Like in 2013 the 2018 primary round votes were clearly a vote for change as the DNT which got only 35,962 votes out of four parties in the 2013 primary round now has almost three times the number at 92,722 votes and came first.
However, what also cannot be ignored is that DPT which sat in the opposition for the last five years also did fairly well in the primary round with 90,020 votes in the primary round coming second.
Since the 2018 vote is for change, the victory of either party on poll day could depend on which party represents change for the people.
Also, like in the 2013 elections, the general round will also be dictated by the increased turnout in the general election round and where would this turnout head.
The 2018 primary round saw an overall turnout of 66.36 % much higher than the 55.3 % primary turnout in 2013 and even higher than the 66.1% general turnout of the 2013 general elections.
However, the high turnout of the 2018 round is slightly deceptive as it was pushed up by the 85.15 % turnout of the now much larger number of postal voters. The EVM voter’s turnout was only 59.86%.
This means that while the postal voters played the deciding role on the primary round the general round will more likely be decided by a higher turnout from the EVM voters. This is because while postal votes will not increase by much, even if there is higher turnout, there is scope for a much larger increase of EVM voters.
EVM voters in general are non government employees and consist mainly of the private sector and farmers.
At the same time, a moderating factor is that since the overall primary round turnout is already high at 66.36 %, including a 59.86% EVM turnout, a significantly much higher turnout should also not be expected.
Another important factor is that compared to 381,790 voters in 2013 there are now 438,663 voters. This is a major increase of 56,873 new voters who have not voted in 2013.
This group of new mainly younger voters have a huge potential to impact the general election results. The big question of where this youth vote will go will also be vital in deciding the outcome.
Where will PDP and BKP voters vote
Another important lesson from the 2013 primary and general elections is on how the DNT and to an extent DCT voters went for PDP in the final round.
Therefore, it would be natural to ask if the same trend will be repeated in 2018. To answer this, the 2013 trend is not enough by itself, but certain important new dynamics of the 2018 primary round must also be kept in mind.
After the 2018 primary round results came out on 15th September, it became very clear that DNT was in a very strong position winning 16 constituencies on its own steam and coming a close second in nine constituencies won by PDP. Given the rivalry of PDP and DPT it was assumed that PDP supporters would vote for DNT in large numbers. This would have meant an easy 25 seats.
In addition, if DNT and PDP voters went together than 10 seats won by DPT mainly in the east were also in danger of falling to DNT. This would mean around 35 seats for DNT.
Furthermore, there was five more seats won by DPT in the primary round which could be anyone’s game if the DNT, PDP and some part of BKP voters came together.
DPT had only seven safe seats where no change or voter’s combination would work.
However, for any of the above combinations to work effectively it hinged on PDP voters coming out and voting in large numbers for DNT even though PDP was knocked out.
The expectation at the time, even within PDP, was that DNT would do the natural thing and approach it for some of the senior or winning candidates in order to draw on these PDP votes.
In a surprising development for PDP, the executive committee of the DNT at great speed announced that it would not take any PDP candidates.
The DNT on its side had its own reasons to not take any PDP candidates. One main reason was the 2013 transfer of DNT candidates to PDP along with ministerial posts and how DNT subsequently felt it gave them a PDP tag they had to work hard to get rid off.
The second reason was that DNT had positioned itself as a party of change, independent of both PDP and DPT and in its own view, better than both of them, and it had got the highest votes in the primary round based on this message.
It was genuinely afraid of losing its Nyamrup votes or voters by any combination with the incumbent governing party.
The third reason was fear that if it took PDP candidates then it would be subject to relentless attack by DPT in the final round and be identified with all the anti-incumbency and criticisms against PDP.
A fourth reason is that since DNT was already in a comfortable position, it felt that PDP voters would choose it over DPT given the old PDP-DPT rivalry without having to offer anything to the PDP party or candidates.
However, within the PDP ranks, there is a feeling that DNT has made a major strategic mistake for itself in not taking any PDP candidates.
There already was a feeling within the PDP grassroots that it was defeated more by DNT’s aggressive campaigning, eating into PDP’s support base, rather than by DPT which stubbornly held on to its base in the east despite the efforts of PDP, DNT and BKP there.
The thinking within PDP was that one way to get rid of any bad blood between PDP and DNT at the grassroots level and also encourage PDP voters support for DNT was for DNT to take PDP candidates, which did not happen.
The understanding within PDP was that ordinary PDP voters would only have been enthusiastic if they saw their candidates or some leaders in DNT, and there would have been a sense of ownership along with it.
While most PDP supporters prefer a DNT government as a ‘lesser evil,’ the main challenge for DNT now is to ensure high turnout of PDP voters to come and vote after their party has dropped out and after DNT has not taken any of their candidates.
DNT may also have trapped itself in another way. While it did not want to lose any DNT votes by taking PDP candidates it is anyhow being accused of aligning with PDP by DPT supporters.
The worst outcome for DNT is not getting enough numbers of the PDP votes and at the same time not getting any special benefit for going it alone.
Within the PDP camp, there is feeling of disbelief at what is seen as DNT’s political mistake and also some hurt for not being given due importance. This is in the backdrop of a clear awareness within PDP that their votes could very well decide the next government, and that they are not some untouchable party as they did a decent job with the economy and had a clean track record.
According to PDP leaders, some DPT candidates instead contacted some winning PDP candidates to join with DPT. The DPT President Pema Gyamtsho, however, made it clear that neither he nor the DPT party had authorized any such contact and denied any knowledge of it. DPT went with its original 47 candidates.
According to many politicians and observers the inability of DNT and PDP to come together at the candidates’ level has now thrown out all former seat calculations out of the window.
As a result, a general election which until a week ago looked like a simple wrap up with DNT as a clear favorite -is now much more evenly balanced between DNT and DPT.
This is especially so with DPT already winning in 22 constituencies of which around 20 is in the east and center. The nightmare scenario for DNT is DPT increasing its voter turnout in the general election to hold on to these 22 seats and then poaching two or more seats to win and form the government with 24 seats.
There is also a growing view that DNT may be wasting its time in DPT strongholds like Pemagatshel and Mongar where DPT won big. As per this view there is every danger of DNT not focusing enough on the few realistically winnable seats in the east and then holding on to the majority of the seats in the south and the west.
The DPT in contrast has started its campaign from southern Bhutan where it is exploring any weaknesses in the DNT seats.
The voter combination of PDP and DNT worked in 2013 in part due to PDP taking in DNT candidates and giving them ministerial posts.
There is no such understanding this time around and so the 2013 dynamics have changed along with the new dynamics of 2018.
The only hope for DNT is if within the next two weeks it can convince enough PDP voters to vote for it despite not having any candidates from PDP.
At the end of the day, and as of now, it is anyone’s game on 18th October 2018.