Picture Courtesy: DNT Facebook

Understanding the swing voters of the South

As the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) gears up to take its position as the ruling government, it is interesting to take note of the significant factors that leads to the formation of the government every five years.

Regionally, the southern votes play a major role in deciding the ruling government as it has a huge number of voters from its five dzongkhags with almost 35 percent of the total voters, and it offers 12 seats in the National Assembly with four from Samtse, and two each from Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang and Chukha.

Comparing the results of the three elections conducted in 2008, 2013 and 2018, all the seats in the southern Dzongkhags was swept by Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) in 2008 and by the PDP during the 2013 general elections.

The pattern is no different this time, as all the 12 seats in the south have been swept clean by DNT. The facts present themselves, it is clear that in the south, the anti-incumbency factor is the norm rather than the exception.

Samtse

PDP’s 2018 candidate from Tashichhoeling, Sangay Khandu, who also represented the Dzongkhag in the National Council from 2013-18 observed that the shift in voting pattern is largely influenced by the anti-incumbency factor and also by the intelligence of the voters there.

“The people are a very good judge. They are aware as to where the party has gone wrong or right and when the new party comes in, they set higher expectations,” further adding, “One factor is that once the party candidates get elected, they hardly keep in touch with their coordinators and supporters due to their own schedule, whereas on other hand, the party workers expect some kind of payment and special treatments and that way they lose faith in the MPs.”

He said that the social media also plays a huge role during the elections. He said the incumbent party takes all the flak during elections while new parties are seen to be humble and clean with great potential to bring change.

He said PDP lost in the south as it was late in starting the election campaign. “While other parties already started to work for the next election, PDP was busy playing its role as the ruling government,” he said.

In his case, as a former National Council (NC) member, he believes that the people misunderstood the role of a NC member. “People are happy with basic development than policy development.”

DNT’s candidate elect from Ugyentse-Yoseltse, Dinesh Kumar Pradhan, said that the people believe in change in government as a means of providing an equal opportunity to all. “They expect more and more and so when the incumbent government can’t meet their expectations, it results in change.”

Another candidate-elect of DNT from Dophuchen-Tading, Loknath Sharma, said, “People in the south are actually intelligent in giving an equal opportunity to every party, and since democracy is still comping up they can see how the different parties can perform.”  “And the anti-incumbency factor is an automatic play in the elections here,” he added.

Sarpang

A former minister and PDP’s candidate from Shompangkha, Nandalal Rai, said the pattern is slightly hampered by the anti-incumbency factor. He believes that there is no such thing as stronghold of any party in the south. “It’s usually swing with a huge number of voters because one may not have fulfilled the expectations of the people, which is why people went for change,” he said, and pointed out that it is difficult to judge how the voters choose.

DNT’s candidate elect from Shompangkha, Tek Bahadhur Rai, said that though he is not aware of the pattern, the people voted for change this time. “This is because people discovered the potential in the new party and the party president’s ability in speaking the local dialect played an important role.”

Dagana

DPT’s Lhamoizingkha-Tashiding candidate, Prem Kumar Khatiwara, believes that the shift of the voters in the south is due to people’s dissatisfaction with minimal development works by the previous government compared to the other regions.

“And the anti-incumbency factor is always present in politics but in the case of the south, we can rather describe it as as the voters’ swing” he added. He said that social media also causes huge damage to the image of candidates, especially the incumbent ones.

PDP’s candidate from Lhamoizingkha-Tashiding Chandra Bdr. Gurung, said the reason for the voters’ shift could be due to the anti-incumbency factor and lack of voter education. “Once the people feel the government has not done enough, it is hard to bring back their mentality,” he said, adding that voters are also drawn to the potential that new parties hold in fulfilling their hopes.

The candidate-elect of DNT, from Lhamoizingkha-Tashiding Hemant Gurung, said, “Southern voters are very considerate in implementing the democratic ideal,” adding, “They clearly believe in balanced politics of not giving too much power to just one party and giving an opportunity to the best new party.” He said southerners understand and want a fair and peaceful democracy.

Tsirang

DPT’s Sergithang-Tsirangtoed candidate, Kewal Ram Adhikari, sees it as an interesting pattern in a rising democracy. “This could be because southerners are more intelligent in deciding the government,” further adding, “I believe that the south is the Kingmaker and the decision taken by them is very important.”

PDP’s Kilkhorthang-Mendrelgang candidate, Kamal Bdr. Gurung, said, “I still believe that the south is a stronghold of PDP but the reason in voters’ shift is that we were late into the field while other parties had already started their game.” However, he believes that the people give more preference to new parties.

Candidate elect of DNT, Bimal Thapa from Kilkhorthang-Mendrelgang said the people believe in giving an opportunity to the new parties. “This happened even in case of electing NC candidates, this time, in Tsirang.”

Chukha

A similar trend followed in Chukha as well with both constituencies being swept by PDP and DNT in 2013 and 2018. DNT’s candidate-elect from Phuentsholing, Jai Bir Rai said, “Generally, I feel that southerners are politically more aware that democracy must take root in a country and not the political party.”  He explained that giving equal opportunity to different parties breeds many experienced leaders in due course of time.

He said that the advantage of a late democracy is that Bhutan gets to learn from the mistakes of other countries. “Maybe learning from other countries, people believe that the government should be changed after every five years and that more power shouldn’t be given to just one party to rule throughout.”

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