The National Council Elections have thrown up more surprises for candidates and observers alike giving us an intriguing look into the minds of Bhutanese voters.
The first major noticeable trend is what seems to be an unhappy and unimpressed electorate who has voted out the majority of incumbent NC MPs.
For those who have been following the NC debates closely this should not come as a big surprise and that too for many reasons.
During the debates rival candidates and some voters both brought out what they felt were some pertinent issues. One of them was on numerous laws being made with questions marks over their quality and implementation. Here the inequity in application of laws on the ‘rich and poor’ came up quite frequently. The other issue which came up regularly was on how the MPs, using their powers of review, would ensure that the people’s rights were protected.
There were also frequent questions on the rupee crisis and the role of NC in holding the institutions to account. One important issue that also stood out was the frequent questions asked by many voters to incumbent MPs on their achievements in the last five years.
It was quite clear from the questions and comments that voters were not satisfied with the performance of many incumbent NC MPs.
The NC in the first few years was initially just a law making extension of the National Assembly which only towards the latter years of its existence played a visible role of being the house of review. However, voters clearly felt that NC candidates had not done enough and had not asked enough questions on various laws and policies that affected them in the last five years.
From the 2013 verdict it is very clear that only highly vocal and active MPs who raise issues of public concern will be taken notice off. The NC can no longer function as an intellectual house of review happy to pass a few laws, but it has to now get out of its ivory tower and go among the grass roots and see the impact of the laws that it makes on the common people.
The NC as the house of review should also take a more active interest in how government policies and actions affect people and what they can do to remedy it.
The disappointing reluctance of many incumbent NC MPs to point out and discuss big issues that are affecting voters like corruption, unequal application of laws, legal loopholes, economic problems and etc during the campaign period would have shown them as being distant and out of touch.
Another trend is voter fatigue apparent in the lower than expected voter turnout compared to the 2008 elections.
This lower turnout should also send out a message to the new MPs to do everything to make the Upper House a relevant body in the lives of the people.
The lower turn out could be a troubling sign for the Upper House that people do not consider it to be as important or relevant as the lower house.
Even in 2008, voter turnout for the NC elections was much lower than those for the NA elections.
Here too the NC should make themselves more relevant to the people by keeping their ears to the ground and playing a more active role in reviewing the executive.
In the past five years the people have been subject to many executive excesses like Pedestrian Day, curtailment of Press Freedom, Corruption scams, Economic downturn, Undermining of Constitutional bodies and etc but the NC on the whole has remained as a mute spectator content to only get involved in the exercise of law making.
The hard treatment of incumbent NC MPs by voters may send a chill down the spine of many incumbent MPs of the lower house too.
The lack of women NC MPs has come as a shock as the NC will be an all male institution.
Here, however, what has to be kept in mind is that out of the 67 candidates only five were women and of them three were facing the anti incumbency wave. There were never enough women candidates to vote for in the first place.
If women want more MPs in Parliament the hard truth is that more of them will have to stand as candidates and fight out elections. The only other option is reservation of seats which in itself is a divisive issue. The NC elections have proven once again that Bhutanese politics is still a male dominated arena which if not addressed in the long run will have an unhealthy effect on our good governance.
However, whatever said and done the voters have spoken.
“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
Larry J. Sabato