After all the talk and complaints at dinner tables, social gatherings and among friends, your ability or inability to cast your vote on the poll day will decide if you have an impact or not.
A democracy, no matter how decentralized or free, with all its checks and balances, is still incomplete without the citizen’s basic participation in the process of elections.
It is only at the ballot box, once every five years, when the ordinary citizens become the true masters in a democracy. The citizens, at the time, have more legal powers than a court, they have more political power than the strongest politicians, and their decisions are final and binding.
It is at the ballot box that citizens- no matter how rich or poor, big or small, ordinary or extraordinary, have an equal right and say in choosing the next government.
Voters on poll day have the responsibility to right the wrongs, remedy the injustices, and can humble the most powerful people and institutions in the land.
In Bhutanese democracy, our wise Kings have delegated sovereign powers to the ordinary citizens or voters, and therefore, it is our scared and national duty to exercise the ultimate symbol of the sovereign power on the poll day.
Bhutanese elections have, so far been an encouraging process, whereby the voter turnout -especially during the 2008 General Elections was high.
However, many democracies around the world face the multiple challenge of corruption, injustice, autocracy, abuse of power, nepotism, and also a less obvious challenge- that of voter apathy.
In developed countries, there are the increasing segments of people who do not care to vote, while in developing and poor countries, there are common cases of middle and upper class voter apathy.
There are also cases in backward countries of how the poor and vulnerable people are unable to vote freely due to lack of faith in the system, vote rigging, or intimidation.
In Bhutan, we cannot afford to be complacent, and everybody should do everything as permissible under the law, to ensure a higher voter turnout.
In the ongoing elections, some politicians, counting on voter apathy and lower turn out, have indicated that the 2013 elections will be fought in the rural areas and not urban areas. Such kinds of statement should serve as a rallying cry for middle class voters or urban voters in Bhutan to not become the second class citizens in their own country, and instead, exercise their franchise to make a difference.
It is important to remember that democracy – apart from its ideals and principles, has a very practical side. Politicians will only go out of their way to serve and listen to citizens who vote, or in short, are ready to use their power to unseat them.
The inability of a voter to vote on the poll day, regardless of their political choices, will ensure that the voter will remain an irrelevant and powerless person, for whom political decisions are made by others.
An analysis of elections in the third world elections in the earlier decades, and to some extent even today, show that many voters cast their votes with their hearts, rather than their minds – where many vote in ignorance, and many vote in keeping with narrow communal and sectarian loyalties.
However, in the last few years of elections in places as diverse as Asia to Africa, have shown the overwhelming rise of the intelligent voters who reward performance and clean governments, and punish those who fail to deliver.
Though democracy is new, it is hoped that there are a large number of such intelligent voters in Bhutan, who can vote wisely using their heads, and not just their hearts. Voters should not be swayed by just the short term promises of grand visions, but should more importantly look at the substance of the person or party whom they are going to vote for.
Voters must do their own research and scrutinize the profile of leaders- to weigh the pros and cons of entrusting the future of the nation, and their own future in the hands of people they want to vote for. Ideally voters should go for candidates who are clean, trustworthy, and capable.
The verdict of the May 31 elections will reveal a lot about our own voters, and where our nation could head in the next five years.
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”