Spectators and party supporters seated at the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) auditorium, and the audience glued on to BBS TV and radio, witnessed the clash of the old and new titans during the first presidential public debate. The audience was treated to rib-tickling wisecracks and one-liners, which created an atmosphere for laughter and an awkward silence at the same time.
Using the first presidential public debate to stimulate their own candidacy, the presidents of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) blamed the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) president and his government in failing to lead the country out of the deep economic downturn.
During the live telecast of the presidential public debate, the party presidents of PDP, DCT and DNT set out on making good impressions, and to convince the nation of their respective party ideologies, and measures to solve the problems that the DPT was unable to solve.
Many viewers felt the first presidential debate between the four parties was impressive, and some of the viewers thought the presidents of PDP, DCT and DNT have surprisingly outshone the DPT president- a ‘master politician’, although he did equally corner each of the party presidents during the course of the debate.
The Wednesday evening debate saw in attendance, the members of political parties and their supporters from across the country. There were also businessmen, former ministers, students, and media persons in the auditorium. The debate was broadcast live on TV and radio for the nation to observe.
“So much has been said and written about JYT’s oratorical prowess, but I think he met his match in the brilliant PDP Tshering Tobgay yesterday at the 2013 Prime Ministerial Debate in RTC,” said a former newspaper editor and an independent political analyst, Kencho Wangdi. “He clearly outshone him in nearly every department. Taken together with the fantastic performances of the two women party Presidents, JYT’s myth took a lethal hit yesterday. But that’s just my humble opinion.”
There also appeared to be a difference on what the presidents were allowed to state at the debate, which was highlighted by the PDP president who said the debate was supposed to be on the party ideology, as per the directives from Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).
The moderator of the debate, Dawa of BBS informed the crowd at the beginning that the debate will be on party ideologies.
On being asked to comment on his observation regarding the accuracy and presentation of the different party ideologies by the presidents of the four parties, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of ECB Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, the electorate is well aware of the objectives and ground rules. “I think it is up to our people to make the judgment and decide,” he said.
The speakers were lined up in alphabetical order. Lily Wangchhuk spoke on the reasons why she joined politics, and said her party’s ideology is focused on taking happiness and prosperity to the grassroots while addressing youth issues at the same time. She said about 50% of the DCT candidates are young, who have struggled in life, and can understand the hardships better than anyone else.
Pausing at certain lines, Dorji Choden spoke of poverty and harsh conditions in the rural corners of the country, and how her party places the high importance on alleviating the inequality and struggles endured by simple citizens. She said her party is devoted towards bestowing an absolute power to the people, and will eliminate the fear and intimidation felt by a majority of people in the society due to inequality.
She also emphasized on the importance of the Indo-Bhutan friendship, which her party will protect and further strengthen.
Jigmi Y Thinley went on straight to talk about what the DPT would do if was elected to office again. He also stated the achievement gained under the DPT government, which was a reiteration of the last State of the Nation Report to the previous Parliament.
The PDP president in his opening statement reminded the other party presidents that the debate is not about party pledges, but rather about party ideologies. He provided a brief history of his party and its slogan to decentralize power to the people.
During the Q&A session of the debate, all four party presidents pitched questions to one another on a range of issues, sparking off a heated debate between the party presidents. While Lily Wangchhuk stood her ground, the DPT and PDP presidents exchanged words loaded with seriousness, humor at times and some stinging sarcasm thrown in as well.
DPT used statistics and figures to show increases in growth like tourism, and decrease in problems like poverty, however, the presidents of DCT and PDP stated otherwise.
The DCT president said the rural and youth populace still struggle and face a lot of hardship. She said one reason can be due to some of the incumbent leaders who have served in their ministerial posts for over 15 years, enjoying a high living standard, and having failed to connect and understand the core issues faced at the grassroots. She said the unemployment problem, which the government claims to have reduced seems to be untrue as thousands of youth are unemployed.
The DNT president Dorji Choden asked a question to the PDP president on what might his suggestions be on how DNT should handle the affairs of state if elected to office. In response he urged DNT to prioritize solving the Rupee Crisis, and to strengthen the economy and nation so that future generations do not have to suffer.
The PDP president also thanked various institutions like, the Bhutan Power Corporation, Bhutan Telecom, and Tashi Cell for their contributions in rural development. Points were also raised on the quality of farm roads in the dzongkhags. PDP urged DNT to take a serious look into the matter should the DNT be elected to form the government.