Accepting the people’s will gracefully

The Bhutanese politicians, like most of their South Asian counterparts, are not good losers. Such was the reaction in 2008 and now in 2013. During the 2008 General Elections, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was considered to be the front runner – poised to form the government by a huge margin. Therefore, the crushing defeat lead to shock and disbelief among its supporters and candidates, some of whom refused to accept reality for a short while.

In what many citizens saw as a controversial and un-Bhutanese step, PDP supporters- in a large crowd had approached His Majesty’s Office in the Tashichhodzong- complaining about how ‘unfair’ the 2008 race had been. Some had also appealed that the institution of democracy be taken back.

The PDP, at the time, had several theories as to why it’d lost. One main allegation was that of ‘apolitical’ civil servants turning political, and they also suspected the EVM machines had been rigged to favor Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). They even pointed to how ‘shocked’ voters were as they thought PDP would form the government.

PDP leaders too, did not hesitate in alleging that almost all media houses, including both state and privately owned, favored DPT. They also blamed an anonymous website of smear campaign to influence voters. Whispers were also heard against the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and election officials.

PDP eventually realized and found out the many and more practical reasons of why voters turned against them.

DPT also expressed great happiness and satisfaction with the 2008 results and praised the ‘wisdom of the ordinary Bhutanese voter.’

In 2013, a similar drama, but of a different scale is being repeated by the DPT, which for the majority of the 2013 race was considered by the same political pundits of 2008 to be a front runner. This time around too, the allegations sound familiar. DPT members allege that postal ballots were rigged.

There are talks of people coming from urban areas to influence people in the rural areas at the last moment. They are also pointing at how unfair some of the media coverage has been. DPT members also point to how ‘shocked’ voters are that PDP formed the government when everybody expected a DPT win. Fingers are also being pointed at an anonymous website Bhutanomics. There are also insinuations and in some cases direct allegations against the ECB among other institutions.

Despite the shocked but calm acceptance of the results by DPT in the early stages, all indications point to some brewing political storm.

Whether it is PDP, DPT or any other political parties in 2008, 2013, 2018, etc., they should all learn to accept the people’s will gracefully.

Political parties, of any hue and might, should weigh the substance and truth in their allegations, otherwise, it is nothing more than mudslinging, which the 2013 race has seen plenty of.

Political parties, instead of making general allegations based on rumors or hearsay, should point out specific cases backed with evidence that should not be too difficult to get given their numerous tshogpas.

Otherwise, PDP questioning the EVM’s in 2008, and DPT questioning the postal ballots in 2013 without any specific proof are a grave disservice to democracy.

Such allegations without any evidence do not suit a young democracy and will only create unwanted confusion among the people and bad blood on both sides.

Far from being an unfair process, the ECB’s 2008 and 2013 race has been recognized and even commended by several foreign observers and foreign media for being a free and fair process.

In fact, the ECB has been criticized, at times, for the seemingly ridiculous lengths that it goes to ensure free and fair elections. These include, keeping civil servants from political zomdus or common forums, ensuring religious ceremonies don’t take place, restricting the activities of non political organizations, the 48 hour blackout period, and applying a heavy hand against the media- especially in 2013 even when it made factual criticism against the incumbent ruling DPT party.

PDP’s shocked reaction in 2008 and DPT’s shocked reaction in 2013 shows the pressing need of our political leaders to listen to the people and to accept truth or reality- no matter how critical it is, instead of going by what paid tshogpas or other middlemen report to them.

Bhutanese voters saying one thing to political candidates is not a legal contract and doing another thing at the ballot box is entirely their democratic choice- protected as a secret ballot. Politicians should know that much by now.

“In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the
thought that there was something not quite fair about it.”

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