The big question for the 30th November 2023 poll day is which are the two parties that will make it to the final round.
When one talks to senior members of the five political parties taking part in the race they all feel that their party has a good chance to be the final party in the final round.
Older parties like Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) feel that the older parties have a higher chance of making it to the final round.
Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) played it diplomatic and feels all parties have equal chances.
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) also feels all parties have an equal chance but it is confident that it will be one of the parties in the final.
Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) feels people will go with change like before and give new parties a chance.
What does DPT and PDP think
When you look at the political scene in Bhutan you will not find two bigger rivals that DPT and PDP who also formed the first and second governments.
However, this time the two parties are united in their thinking that older parties have a stronger chance of getting through to the final round. However, they are not completely ruling out the new parties too.
A senior DPT party official, on the condition of anonymity, to not hurt the sentiments of other parties said that while all parties are strong he said voters in the last five years have had enough of giving new parties a chance and hence want to go for the older parties.
“The pulse in 2018 was ‘let’s go for new one’ but this time around the general policy is ‘old is better’,” said the DPT official.
The DPT official said among the older parties of DPT and PDP even DNT cannot be ruled out.
He said DNT can never be discounted out as in politics firstly nobody can be discounted. He said that DNT was weak earlier but in recent times DNT did well in the debates and is improving on the ground too as they are playing the sympathy game.
He said DNT is also strong in around 9 to 10 constituencies due to the candidates in areas like in South Thimphu, Dogar-Shabha, Nubi-Tangsibji, Gangzur-Minjey etc.
The DPT official said that it will be difficult for the new parties as they do not have their own support base and past records show how difficult it is for new parties to get in and this time around the new parties did not get enough time.
He said new parties also get very confident because Bhutanese voters have a long-held habit of turning up for meetings and saying yes to everyone.
When it comes to regional strength he said that in the east the voters will likely get divided and DPT won’t get as many votes as in the past but on the overall average they will do better.
He said DPT has never focused on the east but is focusing on all constituencies and this time they expect to improve their vote share in the south.
Talking about PDP, he said that a few months ago PDP was the strongest party and they projected an aggressive campaign but after the debates their graph is a little down.
He said DPT and DNT could recover as they came back in the field once Parliament ended.
He said that in the east the votes are split mainly between DPT and BTP, in the south it is between PDP and DPT, central Bhutan is anyone’s game and PDP is quite popular in the West.
A senior PDP party official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, to not offend other party members said that PDP is confident it will be getting through to the final round and when it comes to the second party that will get through it will be DPT with some chance for DNT too.
He said that if people want a change away for the current ruling and opposition parties then BTP could get through too.
He said that if it is a PDP and DPT final round then DPT would win seats in the east and PDP would pick up the South and West.
He said the outcome is less sure if it is PDP and DNT as DPT would back DNT.
The PDP party official said if BTP comes then it will not be as big a threat as DNT.
The PDP official also agreed that DNT has become stronger after the debates as he said they have good speakers and debaters amongst them.
When it comes to regional strength he said that PDP is strong in the south, okay in the West, comfortable in the central regions (Trongsa, Bumthang and Zhemgang) and will do much better in the east than in previous elections.
“While we may not win in the East we will get at least 50% more votes than last time as more supporters and people are coming forward which was not there earlier,” he said.
Doing a more granular analysis the PDP official said that BTP is especially strong in Trashigang where the BTP President is from and Samdrupjongkhar where he worked during COVID. He said DPT is strong in Trashiyangtze, Pemagatshel is mainly between DPT and BTP but PDP is trying to make an in road, Mongar is also between DPT, BTP and PDP.
He said Central Bhutan is divided as DNT is strong in Nubi-Tangsibji but PDP is stronger in Draagteng-Langthil, Bumthang is equally divided between PDP, DNT and BTP with PDP stronger in Chumig-Ura.
In the West, he said PDP is strong in both the constituencies in Haa, PDP is stronger in North Thimphu, Lamgong-Wangchang in Paro, Kabji-Talo in Punakha and in both seats in Wangdue. He said PDP has a chance in all the other western Dzongkhag seats like Dogar-Shabha, Lingmukha-Toedwang etc. but the victory or loss margin would be only by a few seats.
He said in the south while PDP is the strongest there is word that BTP and DPT is also gaining some ground and working hard. In Samtse PDP is confident about three of the four constituencies while DNT (Loknath Sharma) may be strong in one but can still be defeated.
PDP is confident to get both the seats in Dagana but a close competitor in upper Dagana or Lhamoidzigkha-Tashiding is BTP.
PDP is also confident in both the Tsirang seats with DTT being a competitor in Kilkorthang-Mendrelgang.
In Sarpang PDP feels it will get both seats but is more confident about Shompangkha and says Gelephu will be a little tougher.
In Chukha, PDP is confident about Phuentsholing and expects stiff competition from BTP in Bongo-Chapcha.
The PDP official said that BTP cannot be ruled out as he heard that large numbers of civil servants have voted for it apart from strength in the ground and especially the east.
However, the PDP official said that all their candidates are very confident in their assessments.
What BTP thinks
BTP’s General Secretary Tshering Nidup said that he cannot comment on which two parties will get through as every party is strong.
He said Bhutan has a small population and going by hearsay every party feels they are doing well and one cannot really say.
When asked in which regions BTP is stronger he said that it is hard to comment as BTP has got assurances of support from voters of all constituencies but again as seen in this past it is very difficult to say.
When asked if BTP is stronger in the east he said their President has clarified that BTP believes in one nation and one people and is giving equal importance to all constituencies.
Tshering said that in the campaigns some parties are saying they are experienced but he said that while BTP is a new party it has seasoned candidates from the Parliament, bureaucracy and the private sector.
He said that it has been 15 years now since Bhutan has become a democracy and there is a great deal of political maturity and so it now up to the people to see through the portfolio and ideology of every party new or old.
He said once a party is given a chance to form the government then that is the time when they can prove whether they are capable of running the government or not.
What DNT thinks
The DNT General Secretary Phurba said it is really difficult to say as there are five parties and the supporters are divided and all parties are campaigning equally and all are strong politically.
He said when it comes to candidates, unless it is for academic research, there is nothing like weak or strong candidates as it is not like applying for a job where qualifications matter, but instead to win the vote many factors get involved and it is difficult to say which factor will come into play.
When asked in which areas it is strong, Phurba, taking a similar stance as BTP, said it is strong in all areas and there are no weak links as per the candidates’ feedback.
The DNT SG at the same time said he has two reasons in hoping for DNT to qualify for the general round. He said the first reason is that till now for the last 15 years the Bhutanese voters have changed governments and not experienced continuity in governance. He said COVID did not give the government a full term.
He said the second reason is that DNT did something different from the past two governments which is fairness as it did not discriminate and never politicised any issue. He said he had a tough time meeting the ECB’s letter of intent and paper work as until 31st October the PM did not do any party work saying he belonged to the whole nation. He said this is a legacy left behind and something different that has been done.
What DTT thinks
A senior DTT party official also on the condition of anonymity said it’s difficult to say who will get through as all five parties are confident of getting through.
However, he said that DTT is more popular among the educated voters for its different pledges.
He said that in the east DPT was strong initially but things are changing with BTP in the east and also DTT. In the south, he said it was PDP and DNT initially but DTT has made inroads into the south due to its candidates and the President. He said in the West they cannot say but there are pockets and the same goes for the central region.
The DTT party official said they are confident about DTT’s chances as they started their formation in 2019 and have been in the field since 2022 and visited many Gewogs. He said so far voters tend to give new parties a chance and the economy is not good. He said DNT is coming with a different and new philosophy which is Sunomics.