With the 2018 elections just two years away, the political math has already started with Bhutan’s third largest party, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) giving an open invitation to the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) and the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) to come together as one party.
The General Secretary of DNT, Tenzin Lekphell said, “It would be good to unite because the other two political parties in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) are already well established.”
“If we join together it would only make us stronger otherwise three of us would be competing with each other. United we stand and divided we fall,” he added.
He said the uniting of the three parties, if it can happen, would mean some real competition for the established two parties.
The DNT General Secretary said that the main problem is that both PDP and DPT already have a core voter and support group and that makes it difficult for any new party to come in.
He said that there are still enough votes and voters out there who can support the entry of a new party into the General Election round, but that would be more challenging if the three new parties were fighting each other for those same votes.
However, Tenzin Lekphell said that though DNT is willing the other party leaders have not yet been able to decide.
He said difficult issues to decide would be one whose names and party symbols would have to dissolve though he said that subconsciously one would assume that the largest and most visible of the three parties would get some priority.
“We are open if the other political party leaders are willing and in fact the very idea has come from us,” said the General Secretary.
Meanwhile the BKP President Sonam Tobgay who is currently out the country gave a cool response to DNT’s proposal. He said, “As far as BKP is concerned we are not aware of such a ‘proposal’. However, one must take note that BKP constitutes a unique DNA right from its inception and is in a remarkable position now to reshape and co-create progressive politics in the country.”
“We stand on our own at this point and would like to continue fermenting ideas of our vision to provide solutions to the complexities of laying strong foundations of democracy as desired by our beloved Kings. The future is inherently unpredictable and it would be unwise for me as the party President making statements towards the too many unknowns there,” he added.
The DCT President Lily Wangchuk as of Friday evening did not answer on what DCT thought about the current DNT proposal for unity.
Tenzing Lekphell said that the idea for the three parties uniting first emerged in a 2014 study tour to Denmark where the five political parties of Bhutan were represented. He said the idea has now been revived with the ground realities and upcoming polls.
The DNT’s unity offer comes in the backdrop of it becoming increasingly difficult for new parties to dislodge established parties.
The 2013 race had raised hopes for new parties coming into the General Election round but these hopes were soon dashed with the primary round results which saw DPT and PDP heading into the General Election round with huge leads.
However, at the same time the 2013 Primary elections round, which saw a 55.27 percent turnout saw the DNT getting 17.04 percent of the votes and DCT getting 5.90 percent of the votes. The BKP was disqualified from the primary round as it could not secure the total 47 candidates for all constituencies. DPT got 44.25 percent and PDP got 32.53 percent.
For the General Election round the dynamics changed with a higher voter turnout of 66.23 percent which meant voters who did not vote in the primary rounds came out to vote. The DNT’s senior leaders joining PDP also meant a consolidation of the anti-incumbency vote against the then ruling DPT.
If the three parties come together then they not only stand a stronger chance for the General Elections but even in the case of a loss can play a role in influencing the outcome of 2018 General Elections.
Tenzin Lekphell said that even if the other two parties are not interested the DNT would still be able to give a tough fight to PDP and DPT in the primary round.
At the same time he said that the 2018 polls would be a very crucial election for the long term strategy and future of the new parties.