Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) organized the Bhutan Democracy Forum on Friday to encourage healthy discourse among representatives of the four political parties and the audience by focusing on the theme- The state of Bhutan’s democracy, which was also to mark and reflect on the completion of ten years of Bhutan’s transition into a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy.
Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party
Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) President, Dasho Neten Zam and also the first speaker following the drawing of lots, quipped that she is the youngest politician among the others on the stage but perhaps an older citizen. She further questioned if there should be distinction between a politician and a citizen. Dasho Neten Zam, from her point of view summed the state of the democracy in Bhutan through her 11 months of experience as an aspiring politician by taking out an atsara mask from her bag and, putting on the mask she said, “This is a state of democracy.”
Dasho Neten said it is important to advocate that democracy is not at all about elections and votes. She pointed out her observation that after interacting with people from almost six Dzongkhags during her familiarization tours, many of them were of the view that their right comes only after every five years. She also added that there needs to be more women representation not to compete with men but to engage and solicit in the matters concerning women in the country.
Although she acknowledged the positive things that took place because of democracy in the developmental front, she said that it was more important to get into the softer aspects of the democracy and remove the mask and emphasized that people in power should create space for trust and confidence by removing fear. “We have resigned to the fact that nothing can be done without money in politics, is that the sort of democracy that we want,” concluded Dasho Neten by questioning the ethics of such practices.
People’s Democratic Party
Representing the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) the Foreign Minister, Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that democracy in Bhutan did not evolve overnight in Bhutan and that the process is more of a gradual evolution and provided background on the political transition of Bhutan from the establishment of the National Assembly in 1953 till now.
He said that Democracy in Bhutan was a gift from the Throne and that it has become successful in a short period of time. Quoting His Majesty The King, Lyonpo said that highest achievement of the 100 years of Monarchy was the constant nurturing of democracy.
Lyonpo said that while democracy has done well and the Parliament has implemented the 10th and 11th plans he said that there have been apprehensions over perceived nepotism and corruption.
He also said that while political parties have promoted unity, development and national interests over party interests there has been apprehensions over regionalism, disharmony and giving more importance to party interests over national interests.
“There has been apprehension among the people that politics divides people over party lines. So there is a need for us to have a mature approach to politics and all the politicians must join hands to foster constructive approach towards that,” said the foreign minister.
He also talked on the role of CSOs and women in democracy and said that it is therefore important to empower women and women’s political participation considering the vital role they play.
Lyonpo said that Democracy is here to stay in Bhutan.
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa
The third speaker, Dr. Tandin representing Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) spoke on the importance of trust and confidence in each other for a healthy democracy. “The only ideal democracy is the power of the people to vote for their representatives and therefore if we look at it that way, then we definitely have a very good functioning democracy. However, what I think is important for us to assist is how are we electing our leaders, how are the parties leading their team, on what basis are you voting for a particular candidate and therefore this leads me to question the manner in which parties are seeking votes from our voters,” said Dr. Tandin.
He also shared the difficulties faced for the parties outside parliaments, on the role of parties outside the parliament referring to the ruling by the high court that only the party in opposition is accountable to question the government and also questioned the endless rules and regulations if they want to conduct a party meeting.
“People are more aware and you cannot use bribe to get votes because people will inevitably vote for who they really want to vote. So I’m seeing positive changes and despite all difficulties that we have in our infant steps in democracy, I would like to remain positive,” said Dr Tandin.
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa
Lily Wangchuk, the former president of the dissolved party, Druk Chirwang Tshogpa who joined forces with DPT recently represented the party for the event. She spoke on the various means of further strengthening democracy and requested people not to demonize politicians by projecting the politicians and politics as always negative.
She also spoke on the rising number of anonymous users on social media. “This is inciting fear, anger, and resentment by further dividing our society. There is an urgent need to stop the fake negative coverage on social media. I humbly call upon authorities such as ECB, BICMA and BMF to consider strategic invention to highlight the importance of civic education and the need to launch awareness to educate our voters to filter the messages they receive,” said Lily Wangchuk.
Lily Wangchuk said, “To pursue political party interest one can even go to an extent of branding a political party like DPT as an anti-national party. If 40% of the population is supporting DPT, are you saying 40% of the population is anti-national? And ‘Ngolops’ against whom? Fifty percent of the candidates are now replaced with mostly new candidates. During my last few weeks of interaction with them, we only brainstormed how better we can serve our country. I have not heard any discussion otherwise.” She added that the very word ‘Ngolop’ should not even be allowed to be used let alone accused.
The four political parties further engaged in interactive sessions with audiences present during the event, questions solicited from people residing overseas and students from Sherubtse college.
The event was organized with the goal to provide an interactive space in collaboration with Royal University of Bhutan and Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD) for thought leaders, media, citizens, and civil society organizations to engage with the political parties and hear their views on the future of the nation and democracy.