Ordinary Bhutanese can be forgiven for thinking that 2018 is already on their doorsteps, with both the ruling PDP and the opposition DPT going in all guns blazing for the North Thimphu prize.
Mathematically, it is just one seat and a win or loss for either party would not make any major difference in the Parliament.
However, the real appeal of the North Thimphu seat for both political parties lie in its symbolism as a potential compass for 2018 and also as a prestige seat.
A win for the ruling party would give it a huge boost of confidence for 2018 as it would be taking over a DPT held constituency, and it would show approval for the PDP’s larger policies and programs.
On the other hand if DPT manages to retain the seat, then it would come as vital life support for a party that is heading downwards, partly reflected in the hurried resignation of the sitting MP from that seat. A win for DPT would energize its supporters and base for 2018 and start the alarm bells in PDP.
Apart from PDP and DPT other parties like DNT, BKP and DCT will also be closely watching the race to see if they have a chance in 2018.
A loss by the numerically lower DPT would give hope to these new parties to explore various avenues in 2018. This is especially so since beyond 2018 it will become increasingly difficult for new parties to get a toe hold.
The seat is also a prestige ‘need to win’ for both parties as the constituency covers half the national capital. Given how the less numerical urban population exercises undue ‘influence’ over their rural cousins during General Elections- a result here would also give a reading of the mind of the all important urban voters.
On the ground, the argument for PDP to win is that DPT already had two shots at it, and especially after the resignation of the sitting DPT MP, a chance should be given to PDP. It also argues that as the party in power it has delivered so far and has a better ability to actually deliver more of the new promises many of which fall outside the 11th plan.
On the other hand DPT’s main argument is its past work and also the need to keep a strong Opposition. Interestingly DPT by bringing up issues like BBIN, BoIC, Unemployment, etc is also trying to also turn the North Thimphu battle into a larger national test for the PDP.
In 2008 DPT won as part of a wave and also because the then candidate was also a sure shot ministerial candidate. In 2013 despite a national wave against DPT, it held onto the North Thimphu seat again due to the ministerial candidate hope and also because its candidate was seen as being capable.
This time around the North Thimphu election is not only about who won last time and this time, or who would be a better candidate in the remaining two year period. Both the parties and the North Thimphu voters will be acutely aware that the eyes of the entire nation will be on them to see the much bigger message being sent out by them for 2018. This is why both the parties have put in their all in the vital North-Thimphu bye-election.
However, before all eggs are put in the North Thimphu basket there is also an important note of caution. While a win or loss by either party will send out a strong message and have a strong impact; it in no way means that the deal is sealed for 2018.
There is two more years left in which there is still plenty of time for both the ruling and opposition parties to perform, make changes and also land flat on their face. The ruling party should continue to focus on governance and avoid any major mistakes while the Opposition needs to see what fundamental changes it has to make to improve its prospects.
“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
Larry J. Sabato