In a move that could change the political landscape of the upcoming general elections, around eight DNT candidates including the president Dorji Choden and vice president Jigme Zangpo have agreed to join the PDP.
However, this will only be finalized after a final decision is taken on the issue by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) which has been informed of the move.
The other candidates who have agreed to make the move from DNT to PDP are Lekey Dorji from Trong-Bardo constituency and Tshering from Panbang constituency under Zhemgang, Norbu Wangchuk from Kanglung-Samkhar-Udzorong constituency, and Kinely Dorji from Radhi-Sakteng constituency under Trashigang, The list also includes Jigme Dorji from Dremtse-Ngatshang under Mongar, and Pelzang Wangchuk from Jomotshangkha-Martshala constituency under Samdrupjongkhar.
The president Dorji Choden is from Thrimshing constituency under Trashigang while the vice president Jigme Zangpo is from the Mongar constituency under Mongar.
According to a reliable source, the DNT candidates had been approached by PDP a few days after the primary round results were announced, but the DNT candidates did not give a formal reply then.
Following the requests, the DNT in its party meeting decided to allow individual candidates to make their own choice in joining any other party. A source said that it was only yesterday evening that the candidates through a representative have formally agreed to join the PDP.
However, both the PDP and DNT leadership have declined to confirm or deny the move, though DNT leaders said that some candidates were planning to join another political party.
The Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi has declined to comment on this specific case, but he said that he had made the stand of the ECB on candidate transfer clearly based on Election Laws.
The CEC, in the earlier interviews and during the announcement of results after the primary round had said, under Section 209, subsection C, a candidate who belonged to a party that could not make it through the primary round could join one of the parties that did.
Section 209. C says, “A person shall be deemed to be duly nominated to contest an election to the National Assembly, by a registered political party, if he or she is a member of a registered political party which could not qualify for the General Elections but is admitted as a member and nominated as a candidate by a political party to contest in the General Election. However, his/her membership in the original political party shall be forfeited.”
He had said that this could be done if the candidate resigned from his original party, and there was formal consent from both parties.
The CEC, in the past, has said that such provisions ensure that the electorate can still get popular candidates who do well, but are not in the party that gets through.
According to a source, PDP had originally approached the five candidates, Dorji Choden, Jigme Zangpo, Leki Dorji, Norbu Wangchuk and Kinley Dorji. However, the DNT leaders wanted more candidates represented leading to the additional three names of Tshering, Pelzang Wangchuk, and Jigme Dorji.
Of the eight, PDP and DNT leaders could either settle for all eight or seven of the eight candidates. The candidature of Pelzang Wangchuk from Jomotshangkha-Martshala constituency is still under discussion.
The move of the DNT candidates pending of an ECB approval, and is expected to considerably strengthen the PDP in eastern Bhutan, where it was weakest both in terms of candidates and also an organization set up.
The presence of a stronger and relatively better known DNT candidates like the president and vice president to add to PDP’s list of candidates, will not only help them in individual constituencies, but is also expected to boost their credibility in the east, which has so far been a DPT stronghold.
The move is also expected to benefit PDP nationally as electoral calculations have shown that if a majority of DNT voters vote for PDP, then it could easily get a possible of 25 to 26 seats to form the government.
The PDP will be immediately getting a sure winner in Dorji Choden who got a landslide victory in her constituency, getting 2,038 votes compared to DPT’s 809 and PDP’s 362 votes.
Another constituency that could go PDP’s way is Leki Dorji’s Bardo-Trong where Leki lost narrowly getting 1702 votes compared to DPT’s 1,869. Here, the PDP’s 910 votes would tip the balance.
The third constituency is Jigme Zangpo’s Mongar where his 1,703 votes combined with PDP’s 757 could beat DPT’s 2,335 votes.
Other candidates, Kinley Dorji and Norbu Wangchuk will have a tougher races as the combined DNT and PDP votes in their constituencies are not yet enough to beat the DPT vote count.
The situation is also the same for three additional candidates, Pelzang Wangchuk from Jomotsongkha-Martshala, Tshering from Panbang, and Jigme Dorji from Dremtse-Ngatshang. In fact, for the three candidates, whose candidatures DNT leaders have insisted upon, have won fewer votes than the sitting PDP candidates. The changes here could be a sacrifice made by PDP candidates to strengthen PDP’s overall prospects.
According to a source, the DNT candidates have agreed to switch over as they felt the primary round results showed that the people wanted change.
DNT president Dorji Choden said that nothing had been finalized as yet, though she has been approached. She said, “The party has left it to the individual candidates to make their own choices. While I am the party president, my duty is also towards serving the national interest, and for a stronger and more vibrant democracy. At the same time, voters from my constituency have also been insisting that I represent them in the Parliament.”
She said that her view on party ideology is, though each party had its own ideology it was more like a rainbow when taken together, as one party could not say no to the ideology of another. She said no party could say no to DPT’s Equity and Justice ideology or to PDP’s Wangtse Chirphel, or the decentralization of powers or DNT’s ideology to create an inclusive democracy.
On DPT’s accusations of horse trading and swapping of candidates being unethical, she said that DNT candidates would be working within the Electoral Laws. She declined to specifically comment on DPT’s charges, but said that such allegations are part of politics, and is a process of politicking.
Meanwhile, the DNT general secretary Tenzin Lekphell who himself is remaining with DNT did not confirm or deny the PDP move, but made a general clarification on behalf of DNT candidates who would be moving on.
Tenzin Lekphell said, “Firstly the elections rules allow it as DNT candidate would never move if it was not allowed. When it comes to the ideology, party candidates are considering bigger things than party ideology in making their moves.”
He said that the results of the primary round are a matter of grave concern to candidates as there is a danger of Bhutan being divided on regional lines as one party has been associated with the west and another with the east.
He said, “DNT candidates feel there is an opportunity to neutralize this by joining a party so that no party is associated with any region, and stopping the danger to the political fabric and harmony of Bhutan.”
Another DNT member, on the condition of anonymity, said that members of a prominent political party have been spreading rumors in the east that a western party was trying to dominate them.
“The candidates say that party ideology is secondary to national concerns like national unity, strengthening democracy, creating political stability, and ensuring that one party does not get too powerful,” said Lekphell.
He said that the political mood in the country was for change, and it would be of grave disservice to voters and the nation, if candidates did not make use of this opportunity to make democracy work, as this was also DNT’s prime pledge.
Lekphell said, “In the end it must work in the best interests of the nation and it is in the interest of the nation to have a strong and vibrant democracy and Parliament, which in turn needs strong and well balanced candidates between the Government and the Opposition party.”
Despite denials by DPT, the DNT general secretary affirmed that three DNT candidates including two of the winning candidates and an additional candidate had been approached by DPT to join the party.
One is J.B Rai of Phuentsholing who won from his constituency, and so far is not on PDP’s list, said that he had been approached by both parties, but would make up his mind by Monday.
The PDP candidates who stand to be replaced are Sonam Penjor from Thrimshing, Karma Chopel from Radhi-Sakteng, Dorji Drukpa from Kanglung-Samkhar-Udzorong, Kezang Wangmo from Mongar, Tshering Dorji from Dremtse-Ngatshang, Sherub Wangdi from Bardo-Trong and Sangay Dorji from Panbang.