With four political parties now and 2013 nearing the political scene is getting warmer.
In the first parliamentary elections, the People’s Democratic Party was a strong favorite with many predicting a PDP win. This was while the underdog, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa went about its rounds in what many say was a more sober manner.
Many reasons are attributed as to why the ruling government won including the oratory skills, strong intellect, political savvy and charisma of the DPT party president Jigmi Y Thinley.
Five years down the line we have two newcomers: Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa and Druk Mitser Tshogpa.
Choices are being offered to the Bhutanese electorate just when the electorate is demanding more variety on the political plate.
While we can guess the favorites no one can conclusively predict who will win in 2013. Bhutanese voters have become wiser. Getting their votes will require the parties to have substance in terms of their manifestos, ideology, candidates and strong leadership.
As of now the political wisdom is that the ruling DPT government has a better chance than most of coming back to power. One clear advantage is the size of the 10th plan itself at Nu 147 bn focused mainly in rural areas from farm roads to rural electrification.
If the developmental activities have reached the intended targets than DPT’s chances will still be better. In the end DPT’s fate will be decided by its good governance.
However, there is also a reason why there is enthusiasm among the opposition party and the two new parties.
The ruling government which once seemed like an invincible fort has developed chinks in its armor. The Tobacco Control Act, land scams, drugs shortage and the first Constitutional case where the government lost to the Opposition party were some of weak-kneed moments for the DPT.
However what overshadows them all is the current financial crisis arising out of the rupee crisis. If the government cannot check this and it gets any worse affecting the real economy in jobs, buying power and currency depreciation, then DPT will be on much more shakier grounds and 2013 will be a true toss-up.
Moreover, though the Prime Minister is still a feather in the DPT’s cap, how long will his leadership carry the government through with some weak ministers, weaker MPs, and controversies galore? This is in the backdrop of a growing segment of the Bhutanese electorate who does not suffer fools, even in high places.
This government like any government also has to carry the incumbent tag.
The situation is not any rosier for the opposition party PDP, which unlike DPT will have to fight tooth and nail just to stay in the race. The fight for now is on who will be DPT’s challenger, whether it is PDP, DNT or DMT.
However, a more important question for Bhutanese democracy is no matter who is elected, how can we be sure that the next party will keep their promises and strengthen democracy?
One obvious way is to elect the right party and the right MPs after carefully weighing all options. However in the longer run no party will be perfect and every group will have its own flaws, some less and others more.
The only way to ensure a healthy and vibrant democracy is if people stay engaged in the democratic process even after the votes are cast once every five years.
The best steel is formed under high heat and pressure; likewise we can only have good governments if they are subject to a high degree of check and balance and accountability by the people, media, opposition party and civil society.
The next government will only follow many of the precedents set by the government before it. So, if there are weak spots in our democratic system then those coming into power will only be too happy to exploit them.
In a healthy democracy from the time a government is elected to the time its tenure ends, people are the main stakeholders.
The Election Commissions should focus on voter education and awareness campaigns to help people make an informed choice.
At the end, in a democracy, people ultimately get the government they deserve.