An important aspect of the presidential public debates so far, is that most parties are promising, if voted to power, a strong and genuine democracy. Parties have also talked about ensuring that the people will not have to fear their government. They have also talked about strengthening transparency, fighting corruption, and promoting the Right to Information (RTI).
The above has been mentioned and stressed on by all political parties except for the incumbent party –the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, which has either avoided mentioning it or given it only an occasional mention.
The DPT has instead, been aggressively focused on speaking about its rural infrastructure work, and highlighting its vision of doing more if re-elected.
In fact, whenever other parties like DCT, DNT and PDP have raised issues on democracy, transparency, and corruption – the incumbent DPT has taken on a defensive stance.
One example is in the first presidential public debate where the incumbent Prime Minister and DPT party president was at odds with other party presidents on RTI. While all three party presidents support RTI, the incumbent PM talked about the dangers of RTI, and how it would hamper the work of the government.
In the same debate, the DPT president was on the defensive on the Gyelpozhing case. Unlike other parties, he also attacked the media, and went after a young audience member who questioned the DPT on corruption staining its candidates and image, and how such an example might not go down with the youth.
A similar tone from DPT was evident in the second presidential public debate too.
There is a good reason to this peculiar structure of the two party debates so far. While the DPT in the last five years of governance has counted on its work in the rural infrastructure, as its key strength to re-election, it has also come under the charges of autocracy, in-transparency, and corruption.
The incumbent DPT party must realize that while it is important for the government to focus on developmental works, the same is true that there is more to being a government than just a contractor.
The disappointing fact about the incumbent party is that it has not learned from its lessons in the last five years and appears to be heading for a similar style of governance for the next five years if re-elected.
The incumbent party despite having taken a hit in its credibility due to a rash of corruption scams has enlisted candidates in its party that would raise many eyebrows. Its defense on corruption issues has been as usual to lash out and point out non-existent conspiracies.
There is little or no indication that it will change its unique style of governance where actions are carried out first and consultations later.
It is particularly interesting to note that all other parties have mentioned that if elected people under their governments will not have to fear the government. This is an indirect charge that the last five years of the incumbent government has been one where people have had many reasons to fear its government.
The incumbent government has been accused of not strengthening democracy but in fact weakening it by showing a high degree of intolerance for dissent, criticism or even a different point of view. In short an autocratic and dictatorial style of governance.
For a democracy where criticism is very vital the government has placed its critics in various categories of fools, good for nothings, dangerous people, opposition supporters and even anti-nationals.
Worldwide, Right to Information has been or is being adopted by progressive governments to fight corruption, ensure good governance, and people’s empowerment with telling effect.
However, the DPT which promised RTI before the end of its term has become its biggest enemy by advocating more on its debatable dangers than its positive aspects.
For an incumbent government whose finance ministry refuses to share the annual budget detailed document with the media, or a Prime Minister’s Office that refuses to release the details of the expenditures on foreign trips, has set poor examples in promoting transparency.
The other important issue picked up by all political parties, except the DPT is on strengthening the media.
Here again, the DPT has been on the defensive as it has violated the tender and procurement rules and also the basic values of freedom of press to subjugate, and silence critical media.
The DPT party president’s contention that his government tolerated the media, and if it had hit back then the media will not stand bear such a response, is incorrect. The government has, in fact, gone after the critical elements in the media, using its political and financial means, including the entire government machinery.
The only reason why the government has not taken the media to court for big corruption stories is for the simple reason that they are facts backed up with evidence.
Everybody makes mistakes and in most instances, they can be forgiven after they are willing to mend their ways, however, it is an entirely different issue for someone determined to repeat his or her mistakes.
“Democracy is not just the right to vote, it is the right to live in dignity.”