On 12 December 2023, Bhutan witnessed a two-on-two debate between the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
PDP President Tshering Tobgay and Vice President Dorji Choden underscored the urgent need for economic revival and sustainable development as the foundation for addressing pressing national issues.
Meanwhile, BTP President Pema Chewang and Vice President Pema Tenzin emphasized a commitment to economic development, climate diplomacy, youth empowerment, education, and healthcare.
PDP which spoke first highlighted the urgent need for economic revival as the basis of their vision for the nation’s progress. Tshering Tobgay underscored the pivotal role of a developed and advanced economy in addressing the country’s pressing issues. The rising attrition, he argued, is a direct consequence of the country’s economic struggles.
Vice President Dorji Choden shed light on the pivotal role of the agriculture sector in nurturing a self-sufficient economy. She pledged comprehensive support for rural farmers, aiming to strengthen their capabilities and bolster the agricultural backbone of the nation.
Addressing the issue of Bhutan’s Least Developed Country (LDC) graduation, Tshering Tobgay expressed a strong support, asserting that relying on minimal financial grants is unsustainable. He advocated for upgrading Bhutan’s status and commended the decision to graduate from LDC sooner rather than later.
He further outlined the PDP’s commitment to environmental conservation. If elected, the party aims to champion initiatives, such as carbon trading, leveraging Bhutan’s increased credentials in environmental protection.
Reflecting on past achievements, Tshering Tobgay highlighted the PDP’s initiatives in promoting culture. During their tenure, the government dispatched teachers abroad, showcasing a commitment to cultural exchange and development.
In the realm of primary healthcare, the PDP President reiterated the party’s dedication to ongoing awareness and sensitization efforts. He emphasized the importance of increased deployment of health workers across the country’s hospitals to enhance public health.
Upon the question on use of AI and responding to concerns about attrition in the health sector, President Tshering Tobgay acknowledged the potential of AI in medical applications. Drawing from his visit to England, he shared that while AI can detect diseases, the reliance on experienced doctors remains paramount. He stressed the need to balance technological advancements with the expertise of specialized medical professionals.
Addressing the phenomenon of Bhutanese citizens moving abroad, the president acknowledged the hard work required for livelihood in foreign lands. However, he revealed that many Bhutanese abroad express a desire to return home, provided the country ensures a stable economy.
Tshering Tobgay credited Bhutanese abroad for contributing to the nation’s economy and supporting families across all 205 gewogs.
He requested the Bhutanese citizens to return after gaining exposure, experience, and financial stability.
In summary, the PDPs vision for Bhutan encompasses economic revival, agricultural development, environmental conservation, and healthcare priorities. The party’s commitment to supporting, cultural exchange, and the gradual integration of AI in healthcare reflects a holistic approach to national development.
In a key moment during the debate on BTP highlighted the party’s primary focus on the five economic drivers: agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, energy, and mines and minerals.
Pema Chewang boldly pledged to double household incomes within five years, outlining a detailed strategy to achieve this goal.
BTP Vice President Pema Tenzin articulated the party’s economic vision during the debate, placing a strong emphasis on agriculture.
He said, “To make Bhutan a high-income nation, we are looking at five critical factors: Agriculture, Tourism, Infrastructure, Energy, and Mines and Minerals.”
He also outlined specific measures, including providing facilities for farmers, e-fencing against wildlife, increasing production, and offering financial support through loans and irrigation.
In addressing tourism, Pema Tenzin promised to consult with the public and officials regarding the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) charges, and doing away with it in certain dzongkhags, at last fostering increased tourist numbers is their ultimate goal.
He also advocated for boosting electricity capacity and enabling Bhutanese investment in small hydroelectric projects.
BTP’s economic revitalization plan aims to generate Nu 7 billion from agriculture and Nu 120 billion from tourism, with a promise to double the income of individual households within five years.
For the 13th Five-Year Plan, BTP assured the allocation of Nu 512 billion, with funds to be secured from the Government of India through a friendship built on good faith. Pema Chewang announced a substantial investment of Nu 50 billion in infrastructure development, with the goal of doubling revenue in return.
The BTP President also addressed issues concerning youth unemployment and education.
He said expressed concern over the 28.5 percent youth unemployment rate and the mismatch between education and employment. The party proposed creating temporary jobs with payment for college graduates and supporting aspiring entrepreneurs lacking assets for mortgage.
Furthermore, BTP pledged to invest in schools by providing laptops to ensure a quality education and highlighted health initiatives, including stationing male and female health workers in Basic Health Units and conducting screenings for non-communicable diseases.
Vice President Pema Tenzin underlined the party’s commitment to climate action, citing plans for solar energy and hydropower use, green bond financing, and the expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure, recognising the importance of mitigating climate change.