All the mudslinging, the laser-focused nitpicking of acts or remarks against one another and the mission for defamation which easily does not figure into the list of democratic pleasantries, all these aside, aspiring and serving politicians, political observers and media experts harmoniously agree that there is always room for good criticism to make a good democracy and it should be encouraged.
In the years that passed, the ruling government received lot of criticism from all possible institutions, political and apolitical.
“We are happy about it. We are learning from all these criticisms,” said a high ranking official of the government.
The official also quoted Transparency International (TI), a global corruption watchdog where ‘Bhutan ranked 33rd among 176 countries in South Asia’ and also ‘least corrupt’. “Bhutan jumped five places up from last year’s rank,” reported TI.
Democracy questions the stability or the victory of one side, rather it’s a beautiful tapestry woven of opinions of different colors, said a political analyst.
“Constructive Criticism is healthy and has to be encouraged in a democracy as the exercise of right to freedom of speech and expression. However, one has to be mindful not to undermine or infringe other person’s rights in exercise of one’s own,” said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.
The CEC said criticism is good reasoning that helps everybody to focus and not be distracted. “It also has educational merits of sharing information and knowledge,” he said.
“Constructive criticism is an essential element of democracy. Criticism, alternate views and even descent keep democracy vibrant and honest by engaging citizens in public discourse and the democratic process. It also improves the quality of dialogue among the various institutions in a democracy and is a valuable source of information for decision makers,” said the Opposition Leader (OL) Tshering Tobgay.
The Constitution grants citizens freedom of speech, opinion and expression as a fundamental right. “We must nurture, protect and enjoy this fundamental right. Otherwise, we may end up encouraging a culture of silence and fear. And that would destroy democracy,” the OL said.
Interim President of Bhutan Kuengyam Party (BKP), Sonam Tobgay said constructive criticisms in a new democracy like Bhutan are crucial to develop a more humane and responsive system of life and governance. Likewise, deliberative democracy as aided by ruling, opposition, and the media are expected to strengthen citizen’s voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions.
“Public dialogue though not easy to organize must be encouraged,” said Sonam Tobgay.
Interim President of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), Lily Wangchhuk said “Constructive criticism should be encouraged and welcomed as that can bring positive change in the society”.
Elections and citizen journalism trainer Nathaniel Harrison (also Economics Editor of Agence France-Presse News) said “Fact-based criticism distinguishes democracy from all forms of governance. Criticism is essential as it is a guarantee for good governance and in any field, criticism helps to improve and one has to learn from it”.
In a democratic dispensation, free and open public debates and discussions on issues of national importance is a necessary evil.
On that premise a former editor Kinley Tshering said “healthy, critical discussion in our democracy is yet to take shape but the situation is much better now.
“People understand their civic rights to free expression and opinion, and in fact certain educated quarters of our society have been using this right to voice their concerns, in mainstream as well as social media,” said Kinley Tshering.
On the justification of the present government on current issues, BKP Interim President said “Issues of larger public interest should be addressed and justice should be served. There are institutions in the country and we must all work towards strengthening them”.
The aspiring political parties that The Bhutanese talked to said that they were all aware of the pressing issues of the country and were all updated but are unable to share their opinion on national issues as they are not yet a legal entity.
A political analyst (who did not wish to be named) said that ‘spirit of criticism is the bedrock of democracy. Without criticism and debate, the essence of democracy is lost. “One cannot believe in democracy like believing in a religion or God. Democracy is a process that is tested in every process of its flowering,” he said.
Asked if the aspiring political party and other stakeholders of democracy would leave the work of criticism only to the media, they were of the view that ‘they are trying to play their role as well and could criticize and give feedbacks but waits for more suitable time to come’.
The Constitution of Bhutan, Article 7, Fundamental Rights states:
“A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.” Also, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information.”
Puran Gurung / Thimphu