Intricate details explored and discussed repeatedly among a multitude of internet users on the-then infamous and highly active bhutantimes.com, people believe, had strongly brought down the popularity of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and eventually played a most crucial role to ring the death knell for the party who lost the elections in all but two constituencies.
Away from Bhutan and across the seas Barack Obama made history when he became the first ever African-American US President. Both US and international media attributed his success to the internet and social media through which fans and voters felt ‘connected’ to the presidential candidate.
Love it or loath it, internet is a most powerful medium to proliferate messages, beliefs, to market brands, products etc.
The use of social media is highly visible and has picked-up in utility among Bhutan’s movers and shakers who shape policies which affect the general public and the nation.
The up-and-coming political parties and the existent ruling and opposition parties all make their presence visible through one or the other medium online.
However, out of five political parties including the new ones, only the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) have their own websites.
Facebook and Twitter are the two main forums for people and interest groups who strive to proliferate and popularize their causes, opinions or messages.
A Facebook page called ‘Social Democracy in Bhutan’ formed by the people who support the idea of Socialist Democracy principles is the buzzword for those brimming to express themselves. Given that the next election lurks around the corners of 2012, parody accounts, profile under aliases, incognito users currently talk politics, or criticize policies on Twitter and Social Democracy page.
The Social Democracy page has reached a membership high of 3061 while Twitter with every other user who comments on nation’s development policies to MP’s out-of-office behaviors is a foreground to critique the government in cyberspace.
The DPT Secretary General Thinley Gyamtsho, said social media is a good way to educating people who have access to internet, because it is faster than most media. He however said “people get too personal online which is not really good”.
He said the DPT website therefore does not highlight the problems.
A core member of the DNT said without formal registration with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) the party can only be active on the social media.
“It is an open forum. Nothing is personal, and we have learnt that people want a government who listens to the people,” said the DNT member.
He also said that the party manifesto and strategies are framed taking into consideration the general issues highlighted in the social media.
The spoke person for Bhutan Kuengyam Party (BKP) Sonam Tobgay said, social media is helpful only for the handful of urbanites and 20 to 30% of urban people do not have access to internet
The Opposition MP Damcho Dorji acknowledged the importance of being on social media since it is a good way to reach-out to the voters indirectly. The PDP’s website is currently under maintenance to further improve its performance.
“It is a good mode to educate the public on various concerns but we have not decided to work on the website, may be later,” said the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) spoke person Tandin Tshering.
He however believed that such a media cannot change people’s perceptions, overnight to such an extent that a certain party should win or lose.
“There were mainly two factors for DPT landslide victory in 2008; first the president and second the efforts put by the workers,” he said.
“Yes, definitely social media will play the major role in determining the election result. I do not read newspaper but keep myself up-to-date through online forum which is very useful and there would be so many like me,” said Tshering, a recent graduate from Sherubtse college
An activist observed that Facebook and other social sites are very effective but then it’s available only to those who have access to internet.
“In Bhutan I don’t think it’s such a great idea to reach out to the people,” supplemented the activist.
A foreigner who worked in Bhutan for the last four years said if they are using it for fundraising then they have to declare their finances to election commission as per existing laws. Other than that, it’s a good way to reach people.
“I think if there’s freedom of speech guaranteed by constitution then they can use any medium of communication.But triumph for DPT cannot be attributed to social media., There are other factors,” said the foreigner.