In what came as a surprise verdict of the National Council (NC) Elections out of the 20 dzongkhags, only 6 incumbent MPs made it back, with the rest of the incumbent MPs losing their seats in the Upper House.
The voter turnout this year is around 45 percent, which is lesser than the NC Elections in 2008, where the voter turnout was recorded at 53 percent. There were 380,099 voters registered for the NC Elections in 2013.
The anti-incumbency wave has hit most of the serving NC candidates – as results have shown, they have got the least amount of votes to give them huge marginal losses at the polls.
Of the 20 MPs elected in 2008, the Thimphu NC Sangay Zam has joined Druk Nyamprup Tshogpa, while the Punakha NC and Chairperson Namgay Penjore is likely to join Druk Phuensum Tshogpa. Therefore, of the 18 incumbent NC candidates, just six have made it to the NC.
The six incumbents MPs who are back in the NC are; Sangay Khandu from Gasa, Jigmi Rinzin from Pemagatshel, Sonam Kinga from Trashigang, Sonam Dorji from Dagana, Jigme Wangchuk from Samdrup Jongkhar and Tshering Dorji from Haa. The ‘yes’ votes received in the one-man race have placed Sonam Kinga and Sonam Dorji back in the Upper House.
The 14 new MPs who have won the NC Elections in 2013 are; Nima from Bumthang, Pema Tenzin from Chhukha, Tempa Dorji from Lhuentse, Sonam Wangchuk from Mongar, Kaka Tshering from Paro, Rinzin Dorji from Punakha, Sangay Khandu from Samtse, Dhan Bahadhur Monger from Sarpang, Nima Gyeltshen from Thimphu, Tashi Phuntsho from Trashiyangtse, Tharchen from Trongsa, Kamal Bahadhur Gurung from Tsirang, Tashi Dorji from Wangdue Phodrang and Pema Dakpa from Zhemgang. (See box for figures)
Of the total of the 67 candidates, only 5 women candidates have contested in the NC Elections. They are Tshewang Lhamo from Chukha, Sonam Yangchen from Wangdue Phodrang and Pema Lhamo from Zhemgang. All women candidates including the incumbent women MPs have lost at the polls. The lack of women candidates, a strong anti-incumbency factor against existing women MPs, and a more competitive field than in 2008, have contributed to the NC not having a single woman MP this time around.
The results show that incumbent MPs have suffered due to a strong backlash from the voters. The voters stated their concerns as they raised questions during the NC debates- on numerous laws that either did not serve them or were not implemented well.
As in the case of the NC incumbent in Paro who had lost in the Gewog round itself, many voters also punished MPs whom they felt were not dynamic enough, and did not raise enough issues in the house of review. Voters during the gewog zomdu commented on how their MPs did not raise any issues concerning them.
Also, it is clear that those candidates who were perceived to be out of touch with their constituencies – lost at the polls.
The NC elections also showed the probable connection between candidates in the mid and early 30’s with the youth voters. Two of the oldest members of the NC, Dr Jagar Dorji of Trongsa and Pema Lhamo of Zhemgang lost the elections with huge margins. It is possible that they might have not done enough to connect with the youth voters, among other reasons.
However, there is also a good age balance in the house as there are candidates who are in the 40’s age bar as well.
The NC candidates who did well at the polls were the ones who had strong and definite plans, and were able communicate with the voters effectively.
A second term of the NC will see many new, but politically astute NC candidates, including some heavyweights that have ridden on a strong anti-incumbency wave, all of which is expected to create a more pro-active and an aggressive NC.
The NC MPs that this paper talked to, have talked about bringing far reaching changes in laws and plans to benefit the people.
It is also expected, that the new NC will play a more active role in checking and balancing the National Assembly and the Executive, as many of the incoming NC MPs have promised to play a more active role in checks and balance, and review of the government plans and activities.
Going by the questions raised during the NC debates, many of the candidates and the voters asked multiple questions on the Rupee Crisis. Though the candidates tried to convince the voters that NC MPs have no say on the budget, however, the poor state of the economy and the perceived inability of the upper house to hold the government to account for it, may have also hurt the chances of some of the aspiring NC candidates during the elections.
The expected political benefits of NC candidates, who gave up Nu 700,000 in benefits to run for the elections, apparently did not pay enough for them to win.
One of the frequent issue brought forth by voters during the NC debates, was there being two laws in Bhutan –for the rich and the poor. A voter during the NC debate in Punakha, brought up the Gyelpozhing land case, comparing how lightly the case of land acquisition and corruption at high level was handled, as compared to the case of people being imprisoned under the Tobacco Control Act. The incumbent MPs who may have actually been involved in the drafting of some of the laws, could not satisfactorily answer such queries.
The safe, non critical and non controversial style of campaigning by the NC incumbents who steered shy of pertinent and controversial issues like, corruption, economic problems, draconian laws, etc., also hurt their chances to retain their seats in the Upper House.
The NC Elections have also shown the flaw or the electoral weakness in the Upper House, which does not have as visible a role as the lower house, which controls the executive, the purse and also developmental activities.
As a result, the incumbent MPs apart from talking about a few legislations, could not offer anything more concrete to engage the voters, who were already unhappy with the implementation of many laws. The apparent shyness of many incumbent MPs to point out the flaws in systems and laws, did not appeal to voters.
During the NC Elections, MPs like the former party political figure – Kaka Tshering, formerly with PDP and Sangay Khandu formerly of DPT, both being good speakers with political skills, put up a good challenge to others. Now, that they have been elected to the NC, they are expected to play an active role in the Upper House.
The NC elections this time around had 4,651 polling officials, 850 polling stations, 215 temporary polling stations, and 31,592 voters were registered to vote through the postal ballot.
Tenzing Lamsang / Thimphu