Mahrukh A Mughal
IN Bhutan the democratic process is passing through an evolutionary phase, between 1907 and the 1950’s there was an absolute monarchy now the peaceful march to democracy is a steady one. The king of Bhutan is the head of state and since July 18, 2008 the government of Bhutan has been a constitutional monarchy. Executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Zhungtshog, or the council of ministers, headed by the prime minister. The ban on political parties was lifted on April 22, 2007 and after the election of 2008, Bhutan adopted its first modern constitution, codifying the institutions of government and the legal framework for a democratic multi-party system.
Officially there are five political parties which are registered with the election commission of Bhutan. The people’s Democratic Party was founded in 2007. The Druk Phuenum Tshogpa came into being as a merger of the Bhutan people’s united party and all people’s party in 2007. Both of these parties have been registered with the election commission of Bhutan. The Druk Nayamrup Tshogpa was registered in 2013. The Druk Chirwang Tshogpa was also registered in 2013. Bhutan’s first ever election after a king driven monarchy to democracy, held in 2008, making it one of the world’s youngest democracies. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) which was founded in 2007, won election in March 2008. It won a landslide victory in the first general elections ever held. In 2013, after winning the first round by a large margin (44.5% against 32.5% by PDP) it suffered a defeat in the general election (45.1% against 54.9% to the PDP) and only obtained 15 seats out of 47 in the National Assembly. It is considered a conservative a royalist faction. The people’s Democratic Party (PDP), the governing political party, holds 32 seats in the National assembly. It was the first party registered in Bhutan, in 2007. The PDP is regarded as progressive and pro-business.
Now the three other leading political parties which met in Denmark at the end of 2014 and discussed the proposed idea of merger are still wavering and inconsistent to materialize the merger program. These three political parties describe themselves as center-left and social democratic were registered by the election commission in 2013. Druk Nyamrup Tshgpa (DNT) with 17.04% of votes in the primary round, it finished third and therefore could not participate in the general election. It is a “people-centric political party”, promoting social democracy. Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), obtained 5.9% of votes in the primary round. Bhutan Kuen-Nyan party (BKP) was disqualified from participating in the primary round, following a controversial ruling by Bhutan’s election commission, due to a lack of candidates in two constituencies.
In June 2013, all five political parties, while on joint study trip to Denmark supported by Danish institute of parties and Democracy, unanimously agreed the need for support in the development of democratic culture in the country besides institutional strengthening of the political parties. Realizing the recent challenges with democracy, the five registered political parties have united for common vision of promoting vibrant democracy in Bhutan by jointly establishing a multi-party Association called Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD), Endorsed by election commission of Bhutan. It is a common platform that is owned equally by all the political parties engage in a dialogue, cooperation and partnering for facilitating, nurturing and strengthening democracy in Bhutan.
However, it would be fair to say that democracy in Bhutan has not been the resounding success that people hoped it would be in fact, the transition to a democratic society has been a slow and increasingly a painful process. In fact political parties in Bhutan are bereft of distinct political ideologies. All parties, more or less, espouse the same rhetoric. For instance, the ruling party at the movement-people’s democratic party-states in its mission that it is committed to empowering people for liberty, equality and authority. Similarly, the opposition- Druk Phuensum Tshogpa –was founded on the “Fundamental principles of equality and justice.” It should come as no surprise that the other three parties in the scene have also been built around broad, generic, and ultimately empty catchphrases such as “equality”, ‘justice’, and ‘freedom’.
So the merger question of political parties in Bhutan is not based on ideologies. The lack of distinct and strong political ideologies also means that political parties in Bhutan lack strong values. This is most evident during elections. In their pursuit of victory, parties are willing to do anything and everything to secure their seats in parliament. Bhutan Kuen-Nyam party, (BKP’S president, Sonam Tobgay said if Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) claims to have made an informal offer for a merger for 2018 elections, it cannot be taken seriously. “I would like to categorically mention that no offer was made by DNT to BKP.” He also said the issue does not merit an answer from BKP at this point of time. Meanwhile the Druk Chirwang Tshopga (DCT) President, Lily Wangchuk said that personally she was open to all options. The DNT said, it has publicly floated an open proposal for the three new registered political parties to put people before parties and unite to stand a better chance against two established parties, PDP and DPT, to give our people a better platform.”
No doubt merger of the three political parties, if the idea may be materialized before the 2018 election, would certainly make the one single party stronger. Presence of a third strong party would offer an alternative in terms of political leadership and ideology. So far as the BKP is concerned, it has created confusion by denying the idea of any merger plan. 2013 election was very challenging to the new political parties, competing against well-established PDP and DPT, who had several advantages over the new parties. Bhutan’s democracy is only eight years old, therefore the new emerging third forcer, if the merger of the three leading political parties’ takes place into one single party would definitely have some impact on the political scene 2018 election.
— The writer is political analyst based in Lahore.