All general elections till now from 2008 to 2013 to 2018 have thrown up big surprises, but the 2023 elections looks to be the most unpredictable of all so far.
On one hand new parties and even old ones are hopeful of doing well going by past trends, but the DNT is counting on the extraordinary circumstances or events and even its controversial decisions to work in its favour.
The Prime Minister and DNT President Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering politically defended his government on some tricky issues and laid out the political path to 2023 polls.
A political PM
When asked about the political preparations of DNT he said, “Whatever I have decided is political, as it is a DNT decision.”
“There is no division between what I am doing and what DNT is doing because what I do is fair and I don’t do anything that is behind the scenes. Whatever I do has to benefit the country and if it does not benefit the country we should not do it. If it benefits the country, irrespective of any condition we must do it,” added the PM.
Economic Impact of Pandemic
The PM said some people are unhappy with the government due to the pandemic’s mainly economic impact.
“The outcome of efforts of the pandemic is that we are living and alive and we all get to call each other, gather during holidays seasons and go partying because we managed to see ourselves through the pandemic. So I don’t know why the people will not be happy with the outcome of the pandemic,” said the PM.
He said in terms of capital investment they actually spent as much capital budget like in previous years though the sectors changed because during lockdown they did not have labourers and machines and other things and people were not allowed to come out.
“In the lockdown the capitals works were not locked down.”
“While we handled the pandemic in the best way possible and if the GDP growth rate is still in the minus then yes, the narrative would be that government never allowed people to come out. However, the economy is growing at 4.5% which is one of the best in the world as others hover around 1 and 2%.”
He said this is because they balanced and switched gears immediately and reprioritized and kept everything afloat.
The government sent money for base course of farm road and water projects where a chunk of capital money was spent.
He pointed out that during the pandemic of 2021 the import nearly touched 90 bn and this would not be possible if there was nothing happening.
“Some businesses that actually needed crowds did not do well as crowding was not allowed.
Some businesses did well during the pandemic due to the nature of their business.”
Apart from the money spent during he pandemic he said the government switched gears to economic sectors.
“In 2020 October, a month after the first lockdown the Credit Guarantee Scheme was launched.
218 projects are supported with this coming to nearly a billion.”
He said DeSuung in pre-pandemic was a voluntary institution for crowd control, fire, search and rescue etc and there were around 5,000 of them.
“With the accelerated DeSuung program from 5,000 we now have nearly 35,000 Desuups.
There are nearly 40 certificate courses and in terms of training it is 100 plus skilling programs that is changing the face of our economy. From a voluntary institution it became a socio-economic transformative institution. Isn’t that the benefit of the pandemic?” asked the PM.
He said during the pandemic with His Majesty’s command they allowed the Desuups to build the trans Bhutan trail of 508 km from Haa to Trashigang.
He said in the heat of the Pandemic they sent Desuups out to count the number of dogs in the country.
“During the pandemic 1 million fruit trees were planted and there is command to do it for a couple more years. A million fruit trees will be the cash crop for the communities.”
The PM said major ideas like road project for Desuup was born during the pandemic.
Reforms and relations with Civil Servants
The PM said for a lot of the reforms being implemented now a lot of the lessons were taken during the Pandemic to take tough decisions with accuracy and urgency.
“People talk of getting to serve His Majesty and the country, but people who are saying this will not do it unless there is something to benefit out of it for themselves. That is why we are not progressing as a country. You do it even if it is harmful to you and in the short term you are going to lose. That is nothing but unconditional service to the nation.”
On the issue of civil servants impacted by the reforms the PM said, “I apologize to them as many of those who lost their jobs may not be happy with the system. I 100 percent agree with their emotions but please do not underestimate to say they are angry with us. Many of them understand the need to change. It is wrong to blame them saying they are unhappy with us.”
The PM said when he was feeling bad for the former Cabinet Secretary the Cabinet Secretary at the farewell dinner said it is absolutely fine. He said it is not just changing a family or a member of a company but it is reforming and transforming the entire nation and they have to expect complications
“The former Cabinet Secretary also said it is absolutely fine and it is just his bad luck that he could not convince the assessing team on the day. He said it is all to reform the country and the system to make it more efficient and one in which his children must go through and it will benefit all Bhutanese. I was very impressed with this kind of opinion,” said the PM.
The PM said that while what is right must be done he had a couple of rounds of discussion with RCSC and he puts his foot down and does not listen to them when he doesn’t have to.
“I told them that it is not just pointing fingers at others face, but now you must understand everyone’s situation. Reforms are happening in full swing and I am so happy with this and attrition rate is a concern. You just can’t go around bull dozing the things you want to do, but must also strategize the way you want to do it,” said the PM.
The PM said that politicians were always blamed for taking sides or being partisan, but this government has not taken any sides and coordination and harmonization has always been their mandate from day one.
“Even the media is blaming that the two parties are working too closely together. See how we have reversed that and thanks to DPT for responding positively to that.”
He said they are ever willing to listen to and work with the Opposition and any other political parties, and are ever willing to listen to the press.
He said they would listen to the public opinion where required and not listen when not required.
The PM said the other point that every politician or government is blamed for is shortsightedness, and so instead hunt for political popularity and are not willing to take bold decisions.
“We have actually undone all this conventional narrative against the politicians.”
The PM said those who are negatively impacted with the governments various decisions will be unhappy and they are right.
“Drayangs lost their business and they are right as they lost their livelihood. Now girls working in Drayangs are mostly reformed and doing other businesses which may not earn them as much but they have the potential to earn for a longer time in the future. They may be unhappy with the decision and I fully agree with them as I blocked their livelihood, but that doesn’t make me wrong. I apologize for the action I have taken but not because I made a mistake.”
“Closing down a big business unit, throwing out a big set of government cohorts out of the job like Gaydrung, doing away Prado and duty free quota system. Did you ever imagine even in your wildest dreams that a politically elected government is going to do this?” asked the PM.
He also talked about the Land Tax as taking much more tax from the rich and how that money would be used for public services (story on pg 4.)
He said in the Parliament an MP asked him that the reform bill says nine ministries and if the government is going to do it or keep it for the next tenure. “I said whatever is there will be done.”
Excited for 2023 polls
The PM said with what is happening in the last four and a half years, he is very excited with the upcoming elections not because he is the President of DNT or the PM now.
“My excitement would be totally different if it was just normal governance. We had the pandemic, lessons learnt during the pandemic, huge national waves, massive DeSuung skilling programs, lot of DeSuung national programs like water, road, million trees and stray dog management. We have 40 and 50 skill development projects with some already getting international certification.”
“All these excitements are knocking our door and the Gyalsung is now knocking our door. We are preparing the students to qualify for Gyalsung as we have to do a lot of testing. It will be very interesting in 2023,” said the PM.