It has been 15 days since the announcement of the election period on 3rd November, and Bhutan is in the thick of election campaigns by five competing parties, but the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has not received a single complaint from any party against another party.
This is highly unusual compared to past elections in 2018, 2013 and 2008 where parties and candidates regularly filed complaints against each other along with various other allegations.
This paper talked to the General Secretaries of the five parties and the common consensus was that the voters, party workers and coordinators, candidates and parties themselves have all matured give that this is the fourth general election.
The parties and voters have also realized that elections are no longer a zero-sum game where a winner will take everything or that there will be a major rise and fall in fortunes.
This harmonious attitude has also flown into the debates where the candidates have generally maintained a very polite and civil demeanor and avoided strong attacks on each other which was common in debates in past elections.
A common trend in this election is also the fact that all the parties are cash strapped with little to no donors. This is also unlike past elections where donors would freely give.
In fact, things have got so friendly that the General Secretaries of the parties meet up for lunch regularly.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) General Secretary (GS) Kuenga Tashi said, “There are no complaints because the people are getting matured including the candidates and they understand more.”
He said it is not so much the party but the candidates who send in complaints and this time there has been nothing.
He said in the lunch of the SGs there was no agenda as such but they talked informally among themselves about their manifestos, party affairs and challenges, funding etc. He said the GS agreed among themselves not to take up any petty issues and try and resolve issues among themselves.
Kuenga said the election announcement came almost like a surprise and parties had only three days to do all the paper work including submitting the manifestos and so even the party coordinators were very busy.
The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) GS Sonam Tashi had the same take saying, “We are all getting matured and the main thing is that time around the elections happened so fast that we hardly got time to prepare.”
Sonam said that they had an informal discussion even within party and it was felt that such things only create disharmony and unless a complaint is very grave there is point taking it up.
He said it is mainly about maturity and in the last three elections they have learnt that it is only time consuming and does no good to the party and it tarnishes each other’s image.
“For some reason, there hasn’t been any big issues and moreover this election is only for around 20 days until the Primary Round poll day,” Sonam added.
Both the PDP and DPT GS also said that time around all parties are cash strapped as donors are as good as nothing or zero.
The DPT GS opined that this may perhaps also be one of the reasons why the electoral race is less aggressive as donors can get aggressive and put pressure on candidates to win irrespective of party principles.
Sonam said the lunch among GS is also good as they met before too but they could meet in full strength on Thursday. He said this meeting is also useful as they can point out each other’s drawbacks and positives and learn from that.
The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) GS Phurba said, “My first thinking is that in the last five years as said in the debates by DPT MPs there was no discrimination and this message has gone deep inside people and is leading to harmony.”
He said while he supports one party but inside he and the others know if even others win they will do the same and there is no big difference and so no anger and aggressiveness.
Phurba said that most issues come from the coordinators and because of the equal treatment of the last five years, things have become harmonized.
Like his PDP and DPT counterparts he said that now this is the fourth Parliamentary elections and people now really understand things.
Phurba said that the ex-ministers and MPs could contribute from their pay for the party but private donors are not giving. He said they are not giving as they have realized that whoever comes they will get equal service and so there is no special return on investment. He said all the other parties are in a bad shape financially.
The Bhutan Tendrel Party GS Tshering Nidup said that there is understanding both at a personal and political level as even before the elections they used to meet under the Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD) forum of the ECB where they met and discussed things.
He said there is also a lot of clarity due to this.
He said the GS also serves as a bridge between the ECB and the parties. He said there is direction and guidance from the ECB and this could be one reason why there is not much allegations against each other.
He said another thing, is that once the campaign starts then things like seeking permission or other minor issues can be handled and settled at the District level by Returning Officers and if minor issues are resolved down there then it does not even come to the notice of the party office.
He said he cannot speak for others but nothing has come to them from the field.
The Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) GS Kinga Namgay said his personal feeling is that there are now five parties and nobody knows who will make it to the final round and they are all apprehensive. He said since only two parties will make it then they don’t want to make an enemy of the other three.
He said the second factor is that the ECB has been very fair and has told them not to bring hearsay complaints but only ones with evidence and here Kinga said people will not give statements or evidence.
On the financial front both the BTP and DTT GS also said both parties are in a poor financial shape with no donors.
Kinga said, “We are just hand to mouth and while we have a campaign fund committee our President has said we can approach but we should not insist.”
He said personally he thinks it is better if there is no money coming in for all parties.
The BTP GS Tshering said that the economy is still in the post COVID stage and most people do not have money to donate.