Bhutan: Why Druk Phuensum Tshogpa lost to People’s Democratic Party
by Karma Chhojey on 21 Jul 2013 0 Comment

Whether or not the people of Bhutan were looking for a real change, the second election brought about a change in the ruling party of the country. How efficient will the new government be in fulfilling its promises remains to be seen. Whether people understand the values of democracy or not, the process seems to show some improvement in the exercise of voting rights.  People seem to have shown the strength of their understanding of the values of democracy.  When the first election took place in 2008, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) lost fatally – it was limited to just two seats – gossip mongers had much to say about the background of the party.


It was said that Sangye Nidup, the fourth king’s brother-in-law, actually structured and headed the People’s Democratic Party in its initial foundation period. But, when the king’s father-in-law’s relationship with the people worsened due to his materialistic desires, the king wanted Jigmi Y Thinley (president of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, or DPT) to form the first government of the infant democracy. Moreover, the members of the PDP were mostly amateurs, while DPT was manned with virtuoso former ministers, ready to continue what was left at the time of transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. The king put his faith in the DPT and hence the landslide victory of Jigmi Thinley’s party.


This time, however, the PDP’s victory has a different narrative, hidden in the fabric of the grassroots, where the common people voted and turned down the DPT.  Sources requesting anonymity offer some explanations. First and foremost, it is said, all votes from the armed forces and their families were cast as per the directive of their officers who had specific briefings from the two kings. The postal ballots from the armed forces too were carefully prepared on royal command received by respective company officers.


Then, the ex-Police Superintendent Rinchen Thinley and former Royal Advisory Councillor Sangye Wangdi, at the instance of the palace, visited the house of Ngatshang Gup on the morning of July 4 where aspiring voters were collected and briefed them to vote for PDP only. On the afternoon of the same day, accompanied by TV cable contractor Tenzin of Mongar, the former police SP Rinchen Thinley called upon Gyaltshen, Sangye Jamtsho and former MP Aum Sonam under Saleng Geog to brief them on the directives to vote for PDP. 


The duo was caught lecturing people of Chhali on July 5. The same night, at 10 pm, they were detained by Mongar police on the allegation of misguiding voters. However, they were released when it was understood that they were actually royal emissaries sent for the mission of guiding voters to vote for PDP.  Despite this, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa bagged all votes from Mongar as the duo could not brainwash major sections of the voters who were committed to the DPT and had faith and trust in the party. 


The fifth king had personally assured the people in the south that census and citizenship problems would be solved giving No. 1 census status to all those who have the issue unresolved.


When India questioned fourth king about Jigmi Y Thinley’s relationship with China, the king convinced India that it was totally Thinley’s personal interest and assured that Bhutan will always remain dependent and the closest friend to India.


The Indo-Bhutan Trade Protocol for subsidy grants expired on June 30, 2013. So, India proposed that Bhutan renew the agreement on subsidy on LPG gas and petrol. However, the fourth king is believed to have told India to wait until new government is formed after the election. The king acceded to the lifting of LPG gas subsidy, left to be renewed by the new government.  


In the context of regionalization of Bhutanese politics, PDP supporters in the western region have begun to antagonize Sharchokpas claiming PDP as a minority Ngalong party. People began to talk about DPT’s defeat. According to reliable sources in Bhutan, DPT’s 500 members from the east and 1500 from the regions of North, South and Central Bhutan have converged in the capital city of Thimphu to deliberate on the undemocratic and coerced voting in the election.  They feel that the DPT should not play the role of the opposition in parliament.


The congregation is expected to discuss several important issues. First, Bhutan is geo-politically and physically squeezed between two giant nuclear powers. In this context, China blames Bhutan of keeping Indian military along Bhutan-China borders whereby China frequently antagonizes Bhutan by not cooperating on border talks. Hence, in order to maintain good relationship with the north, India should be asked to remove its army from our northern borders. Once Indian military vacates our frontiers in the north, our trade relationship with India, which prevails since time immemorial, shall continue based on our requirement.


If there is any truth in these stories, there is a fear that democracy in Bhutan is duped in the name of change through a maneuvered election process by giving boost to the party chosen not by the people, but by the palace. The Government of India also played a vital role in making DPT lose the general election by raising the price of LPG gas.  

The author is a member of the Druk National Congress

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