With the 2013 race only seven to eight months away a series of predictions are being made of the future results, some depending on facts and some on ‘feelings’.
What the final results will be, nobody can truly say, though the current opinion of Bhutan’s ‘chattering classes’ would suggest that DPT for now is in a better position than the other parties.
However, to get a truly accurate picture and any vaguely accurate prediction of the future electoral results, keeping track of the past electoral trends is extremely important, especially the 2008 general elections where PDP lost. Coincidentally in 2008 the general wisdom from the same chattering classes was that PDP would win and win quite decisively.
So why did PDP lose and that too with such a huge margin? Till date there has been no official and public analysis for various reasons, but ultimately it is in the interest of Bhutanese democracy to examine the reasons for that loss.
The analysis is all the more important now because DPT in many ways is seen to be repeating the many mistakes of PDP in 2008.
In 2008 through a combination of circumstances, public perception and highly effective rumors against PDP, three key sections of the Bhutanese population had become alienated from the party.
These constituted the farmers, private sector and civil servants ultimately reflected in the 45-2 result.
At the time some percieved supporters of the PDP were involved in some controversial land dealings with a key and public one being the Phobjika case. These issues along with unofficial slogans like ‘Pha-du-sa-bu-bu-dusa-tsao’ (where the father stays the son stays, and where the son stays the grandson stays) and unofficial word of mouth campaigning and even official insinuations during the campaign period portrayed PDP as a party out to get the very land beneath all farmers feet. Stories like ‘farmers would have to find trees to live in’ only exacerbated this fear.
The private sector was also alienated with the same unofficial message, only this time that all major businesses would go to PDP supporters or the family members of PDP members. This in many ways will explain the unusually high number of industrialists who supported DPT and still do. What did not help PDP was that a few of its industrial supporters were involved in some economic projects where they were seen to have gotten some leeway.
Finally the strongest DPT support base in the 2008 elections were the civil servants who did not need much convincing and by many accounts played a key role in convincing their rural cousins to vote for DPT. For civil servants one key issue was the formation of some powerful bureaucratic cliques allegedly around senior members of the PDP leadership. Though the former President was never accused of Nepotism in helping his family members the main concern was that a few bureaucrats around him who were considered to be unpopular or unreliable were getting too powerful. It is another matter that these perceived powerful bureaucrat supporters of PDP quickly changed their colors after the 2008 results.
For the civil servants and the intelligentsia alike the PDP was seen as being highly connected to many levers of power in the state and there was concern that there would be excessive concentration of powers among a few if PDP won.
In a Buddhist culture that values humility and in a society still reeling from the effects of His Majesty the Fourth King stepping down and introducing democracy the PDP’s early, aggressive and public campaign was a jarring strategic mistake.
In 2012 it is remarkable how DPT in terms of its public image and actions has pushed itself into the same spot as PDP in 2008.
On land there has been a series of land scam revelations involving DPT ministers and senior party members. The list so far is Gyelpozhing, Chang Ugyen case, Denchi and also other murmurs. It is ironical that the same ministers that won partly on the plank of PDP being linked to land issues were all along themselves involved in the same type of land issues.
In the private sector the ruling government has been accused of outright corruption and Nepotism in favoring business houses close to ruling ministers. The Trowa case, Education City, City Buses, Mining issues and etc are cited by business houses. What will also not help the governments is a perceived anti-private sector attitude with little and late reactions on issues like rupee shortage and liquidity crisis.
The ruling government has become especially unpopular with the civil service for what many see as cases of Nepotism and injustices where a clique of civil servants close to the ruling government get an unfair share of the push upstairs. If civil servants where the biggest supporters of DPT in 2008 they are now the DPT’s biggest stumbling block.
Many of the intelligentsia has realized that DPT is encouraging growing concentration of political and economic powers within a few families which was exactly what they wanted to avoid in 2008. The dictatorial style of governance does not help.
A factor which has not been analyzed in 2008 is the media coverage. By international standards Bhutanese media coverage was unbiased and gave largely equal coverage and importance to both parties well within any legal norms. However, the liberal and approachable image of DPT and its media savvy President ensured a subtle media bias towards the DPT in 2008.
In 2012 the policies of the DPT government is the single biggest challenge to the growth and even survival of the media from drastically slashing advertisement budgets, attacking and scolding journalists on a regular basis, developing an increasingly thin skin, and also using its entire state and economic machinery to target critical papers.
Much has been made of the DPT building farm roads, schools and hospitals. It must be remembered that in 2008 one of the biggest reasons why people thought PDP would win was because the former PDP president in his avatars as the Agriculture, Education and Health Minister had single handedly set up numerous schools and hospitals and also built a record number of farm roads exceeding even government targets.
In Bhutan if elections are to be won just on farm roads, hospitals and schools then Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup who exceeded all these targets as ministers in these sectors should have won with a thumping majority over Lyonchhen Jigme Y. Thinley who held comparatively less developmental oriented posts like the Foreign Minister and the Home Minister.
These and several other factors have to be factored in before declaring any outright winner or loser. The 2013 race is much more complicated, open and unpredictable especially with the primary rounds this time and growing problems with the economy. At many levels it is still too early to call sure shot winners and losers.
Which political party comes to power matters a lot in terms of policies, but at the end of the day the success of Bhutanese democracy should not be just incumbent on parties. It has to do with the participation of ordinary citizens not only at the ballot box but also after that to safeguard our collective constitutional rights and freedoms.