There is a saying that a ‘Democracy is only as healthy as its opposition.’ In other words a successful democracy should have an efficient check and balance on the powers of the ruling government, which includes a strong opposition party.
In Bhutan’s case the Opposition party is the smallest in the world and though there are various opinions on its efficacy the common consensus has been that it is just too small to make a significant impact.
In the 2013 race there are varying opinions on which party should form the next government, with DPT as a front runner so far. However, whoever forms the government there is a common consensus among the electorate on the need for a strong opposition party.
As of now all the parties in the race are focused on getting the ruling party job but are yet to demonstrate any strong opposition mettle in case they end up in the opposition seat.
In terms of the performance of the current opposition party PDP there are three types of opinions.
In a society where consensus and uniformity is the norm instead of criticism, there are those, especially among the ruling party supporters, who view the current opposition party PDP, as being too aggressive, negative, disruptive and representing factional interests.
At the same time there is a significant section both in rural and urban areas who appreciate the role of the opposition in checking the ruling government and opposing it on popular issues like tax hikes, Pedestrian day, corruption and also giving an alternate view in Parliament discussions.
However, there is also a significant group especially among the youth and some sections of the intelligentsia who feel that the Opposition Party has not been aggressive and effective enough to check a powerful and belligerent government.
The three new parties are yet to prove any strong Opposition party mettle as they have generally shied away from attacking policies or actions of the ruling dispensation.
The parties in the fray who are still under formation have instead decided to focus on the positives like listing out their plan of action. As is being increasingly pointed out, this has lead to parties sounding like carbon copies of each other.
One gathers the impression that political parties in Bhutan would like to get power and responsibility the easy and non-controversial way without tackling and addressing the big issues.
Political parties of every hue and color have not yet been able to strike a chord with the masses as they have remained relatively silent and preferred not to take on the government on big issues like the economy, employment, corruption, transparency, press freedom etc.
Parties have to realize that in mid 2013 the nation is headed for general elections and not a seminar to discuss political ideas, the 11th plan or further elaboration of GNH values.
There is a noticeable reluctance and even fear among political parties of criticizing government policies, actions and even figure heads they do not agree with.
All of the above runs contrary to a basic rule of politics, which is, that people will go with leaders who not only understand and sympathizes with them but, more importantly, is ready to fight for them.
Criticism of a certain policy by a party, for instance, not only shows that the party is in tune with the masses but it also shows that they care enough to criticize, which in turn means they have an alternate plan.
The current crop of aspiring politicians are a mix of diplomats toeing a diplomatic line and well meaning school teachers lecturing a bored classroom.
There are reasons for this political landscape. The main would be the ‘small society syndrome’ where there is reluctance to criticize each other. Political parties are also at an early stage, building their parties, collecting candidates and wanting to avoid controversy early on.
However, some aspiring politicians express a darker reason too. They say, that since many of them are from the private and corporate sector and ultimately may have to turn to it in case of defeat, they would not like a hostile ruling government ‘targeting’ them for a tough election fight. This fear is further reinforced with the better than average chances of the current ruling government returning to power in 2013. It is also this same fear of being seen as the ‘enemy’ that is preventing many potentially good candidates from joining the fray.
However, whatever the excuses political parties will have to shape up and play a more proactive role if they want to even have any hope of becoming the opposition party let alone form the ruling government.