Bhutanese Parliament will see just 3 women Elected Representatives

The narrative that politics is a field only for men is being felt even harder as the general elections of January 9, 2024, saw only two of the six women candidates winning in the National Assembly (NA) elections. With this, Bhutan’s Fourth Parliament will have only three women elected leaders, including the lone National Council (NC) representative elected in the NC elections of 2023. The NC member represents Zhemgang district.

Speaking to the paper, Bhutan Tendrel Party’s (BTP) Dorji Wangmo, the NA elect from Kengkhar-Weringla constituency, Mongaar, said she had wished that all six women candidates win in the general elections. “There were only six women left after the primary rounds; three from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and three from BTP. As a woman, I sincerely wished that all of us win, as women representatives are important for a country. Unfortunately, only two of us won,” she said.

On reasons why there weren’t many women contestants, Dorji Wangmo said that it is perhaps the notion that politics is meant only for males. “I believe that the notion of politics being something meant only for males still exists in our society, though I differ with that. If such a perception is there, it becomes very vital for every woman and especially the educated lot to drive home the message that women can be equally better as leaders compared to men. I take this very seriously and have been propagating the same during my campaign,” she said.

On women not supporting other women candidates, Dorji said that similar means like the ones mentioned above need to be injected into society. “The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and civil society organizations (CSOs) like Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW) have been spearheading such campaigns. Nonetheless, though about 50 % of the voters are women, there appears to be a lack of support from this group. However, it could also be because there are very few women candidates. Thus, it again boils down to having concrete legislatures promoting women’s participation in the electoral process.”

Nonetheless, Dorji is upbeat about the new tasks that lie ahead of her. “As there are only two of us in the NA, the duty and responsibility to represent every woman in Bhutan falls on us. I am positive that we can do this. I will give my best and take up issues related to women very concretely in the Parliament,” she said.

Dorji Wangmo won with a total vote of 4,504, beating the PDP’s candidate Sonam Penjore. She won 2,036 EVM votes and 2,468 postal ballots, while Sonam Penjore could secure only a total of 3,298 votes, which comprised 1,893 EVM and 1,405 postal voters.

The other elected women’s representative is the PDP’s candidate from the Ugyentse-Yoeseltse constituency of Samtse district, Dimple Thapa. She secured a total of 5,284 votes, 1,053 postal and 4,231 EVM votes, beating BTP’s candidate, Pushpa R Humagai, who secured a total of 2,796 votes.

Dimple Thapa said that there are very few women participants in the political arena. “First of all, there is low participation of women in elections due to social obligations and hence fewer women participation. I think people should trust women more and allow them to probe their capabilities,” she said.

She added that women should be encouraged to pursue education in politics and take up careers in politics.  “Women should be given equal opportunity and support to showcase their potential,” she reiterated.

In the 2008 NA elections, four women were elected as members of the NA. In 2013 too, four female representatives were chosen out of the 47 available seats. However, in 2018, there was a surge in the number of women in the NA with eight women elected.

There were six women contestants in the general and final round of the 2024 NA elections, from which only two triumphed. The fourth parliament would have only five representatives; three in the NC and two in the NA. Of the three in the NC, two are eminent members.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu