To see a proliferation of aspiring political parties is exciting. Four different groups of people coming together to form political parties in a small society like ours shows that the political consciousness is growing. It is a welcome sign, especially, given the short span of time since Bhutan embraced democracy as its national polity.
The aspiring political parties are Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party, Druk Chirwang Tshogpa, and Druk Miser Tshogpa. Unfortunately, Druk Miser Tshogpa had an early death.
Most candidates of the political parties deserve appreciation. They feel there will never be a time as appropriate as today to engage in a political process, which harbors an immense potential to make the lives of Bhutanese citizens better. And several of them, especially civil servants, say they are leaving their comfort zone without much financial and economic security. The only reason they give, perhaps a politically correct one, is their absolute conviction to make a difference in the society. They deserve appreciation for this as well.
All the three upcoming political parties have now expressed their interest to be registered with the election commission to obtain legitimacy as a political entity and to contest the election. If all of them qualify to be registered, we will have five parties (including the current ruling and opposition camps) competing for the confidence of the people in the primary round to move to the general election.
This means that for every 140,000 Bhutanese people (keeping the population at 700,000) there is a political party. It could perhaps be one of the highest per capita political party in the world.
Interestingly, as much of our population is young, not all of them will be eligible to cast their vote if they are not 18 years and above. Considering about 400,000 people are eligible to choose which parties should go to the general round, a little more than 80,000 voters will be able to give the verdict. This makes us a small cute democracy. It also gives us a reason to be proud as it indicates everyone matters a lot in making an important national political decision.
However, as much as the proliferation of political parties people might become indifferent about them, as they are hardly able to form their own distinct characteristics.
It is not very difficult for a political party to say it will promote Gross National Happiness (GNH), reduce unemployment, bridge income inequality, protect environment, promote culture and traditions, deepen democratic culture, and develop a strong economy.
All these are obvious. It does not take committed politicians to say this. Anyone can. Even by a politician with the least amount of commitment to the public service.
It would be heartening to hear a political party getting to the specifics about the issues for our easy understanding. For example, we would love to know how a particular party would address unemployment problems and close widening economic inequality. For example, will it be done by taxing the rich more or by making the best use of the national resources for the benefit of the poor and improving efficiency in the governance system?
People would be happy to know the possible solutions a party proposes to a host of problems they face on a daily basis.
It would be nice of political parties if they can make their own stand, for example, on the country’s foreign policy and how to strengthen its sovereignty amid the onslaught of globalization. Especially, on the consideration of Bhutan’s geostrategic location between the two rising nations (China and India) and 21st century’s economic power houses.
They should also have their own views on the issues like Bhutan’s ongoing negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), tariff on the hydroelectricity export, relationships with the immediate neighbors, fighting corruption, how to redress the financial crunch the economy is reeling in, and the promotion of the media to list a few.
Different names of the political parties do not necessarily mean different characteristics and ideologies.
Passang Dorji is a consultant and freelance journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org