Lyonchhen may not have been able to visit Nganglam due to COVID-19, but he told the paper that he had made hundreds of calls to the constituency and especially to politically active people that included hardcore supporters of DPT to support the DNT candidate.
According to sources, in the Chhoekhor-Tang bye elections last year, the Prime Minister even took some personal salary advance to support the cash strapped DNT candidate Dawa Tangpa.
The above two incidents may give a glimpse of the determination and will that DNT put behind its bye election races in the above two constituencies and also Mongar.
The result of the three bye elections held in what was traditionally regarded as the DPT’s backyard show that DNT seems to have achieved what many thought was politically impossible – which is beating DPT in Chhoekhor-Tang and Nanglam.
While Mongar constituency has always gone with the party in power with DPT in 2008, PDP in 2013 and DNT in 2018, it was Chhoekhor-Tang and Nganglam that stubbornly stuck to DPT in 2008, 2013 and 2018 and that too by large margins enough to sink the heart of any potential challengers.
DNT’s wins in these two seats followed by DPT’s inability to wrest Mongar from DNT will have national political implications that go far beyond these three seats.
It shows that DPT is no longer invincible in its mainly eastern base and that a hardworking party with the right combinations can win in what was once thought to be DPT’s base.
The PM said that he is very grateful to the people of Nanglam who have shown a deep understanding of how democracy works as people are not voting blindly or in a hardcore manner anymore with a single party.
Lyonchhen said that this also now busts the notion that people of one part of Bhutan vote for only one party and this he said has a national impact.
Lyonchhen said that there were assumptions that DNT cannot win in the east but even if one looks at the 2018 results except for a few places like Pemagatshel and other constituencies, even in the seats where DNT lost, it did so with a small margin of 20, 90 and 100 votes.
He said the 2018 results itself showed that there was no unilateral political domination in the east except in places like Pemagatshel.
Lyonchhen said now even in Nanglam the DNT not only overcame the past trends of huge victory margins but also won by 700 votes.
When asked about the reason behind DNT’s victory in Nanglam, Mongar and earlier Chhoekhor-Tang he said it is down to the sincerity of what DNT said. “Please go and listen to my talks during the campaigns where I talk with sincerity and say black is black and white is white,” said the PM.
Lyonchhen said, “Be it Chhoekhor-Tang or Nganglam we spoke our hearts and we told them that if DPT wins the two seats again then both Dawa and Karma would not be taking part again and this would also apply for other parties as they would not put in good candidates there as nobody would like to enter a race to lose.”
He also said that if DPT kept winning these two seats then other parties would not see any chances for them in the future and this would not be good for democracy.
Lyonchhen said that apart from the deepening and better understanding of democracy and DNT’s sincerity another important factor is the pledges made in the three constituencies. Lyonchhen said that every election is about pledges and he said that DNT had made very realistic pledges in the three constituencies.
The PM said that he would personally monitor the pledges and ensure that they are fulfilled.
All the three bye elections took place in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic where the government has been seen as doing well in managing the pandemic and its fall out especially under the leadership of His Majesty The King. When asked if he felt that the COVID-19 response and the positive praise garnered by the government played a role in the bye elections, the PM said he does not know but he doubts if that is the winning factor.
The good performance of the DNT in the three bye elections puts it on firm footing before the 2023 elections.
When asked if the bye election results could indicate how things will play out in 2023, the PM said the results should not be seen as a hint for the future as 2023 could be unpredictable. He said it is good this way as the people should not give their all out support to any political party or leader and this will keep everyone on their toes.
The PM congratulated the Election Commission for a doing a wonderful job in the time of COVID-19 with mobile voting booths, postal ballots and ensuring that only the able bodied had to vote in person.
The three recent bye election losses for the DPT while coming as a surprise for many is actually in line with larger electoral trends since 2013 as DPT has steadily but surely lost its support base in the east. Its victory margin even in what were regarded as its strongholds have come down dramatically in the 2013 and 2018 elections.
So there is anti-incumbency at play in the east but it is slower acting than in the west and south. The east is also not a homogenous entity as different Dzongkhags and seats vote differently.
However, given the inherent strengths of DPT in the east it will also be too early to make any predictions as Bhutanese elections and voters always throw up the most unexpected surprises.