Bhutan’s current political scenario

There are many stories of “rags to riches,” just as there are tales of people from humble beginnings climbing the bureaucratic ladder and receiving the ultimate aspiration – recognition by His Majesty the King. From the many, people say that Dasho Pema Chewang, former Secretary of the National Land Commission (NLC) is one example of a son from a humble household receiving the Red Scarf and Patang from His Majesty – the ultimate aspiration.

As a small society, words spread fast and rumours that Dasho Pema was to form a political party was doing their rounds. Last week Dasho clarified to the Bhutanese media that it is not a rumour. He is forming a political party, and he would be President of the party. This was followed with his resignation.

Many questions are asked, of which the most asked is why Dasho, who had a very good position in society and post in the civil service resigned, to form a political party? The question becomes more pertinent as we haven’t seen a senior bureaucrat like Dasho, at the peak of his career, resigning to form a political party. Like many say, it is a very big decision to resign from the civil service. In the case of Dasho Pema Chewang, the decision is huge as he resigned to form a party.

As news about the latest party in the forming hit the Bhutanese media, many were surprised. Some are reportedly in a limbo. Allegations of party workers shifting allegiance have already erupted.

All said and done, only Dasho Pema will know why he resigned to take on a massive responsibility. But the truth is that his announcement has changed the nation’s political setting. Political parties will need to sit on their drawing boards and change their strategies. They will need to keep in constant touch with their supporters at the grass-root as defection cannot be over-ruled. Even candidates may go where ever the grass is greener. Moreover, there still is time as the National Assembly elections will be conducted only towards the end of 2023.

In the days to come, the country will see how Dasho’s party position themselves, the party’s name, faces of the party, their ideologies and others. The party will need to have a convention, after which registration with the election commission of Bhutan (ECB) can be done.

If there is something that cannot be said, it is the behavior of Bhutanese voters. The last three general elections have conveyed the message that there is nothing certain. Though political observers and writers have mentioned how Bhutanese voters should be wooed, their behavior and voting pattern, a comprehensive study of this has not been conducted. Thus, the factors for success or failure are outlined as the party’s leader, social connections, incumbency factors and others.

Though it is still early to say what cards the new party in the offing would draw, political observers say the President’s humility, constituency, experience and knowledge about the needs at the grassroots found out during his stint as NLC Secretary are some strengths. Though not someone who is very active on mainstream or social media, people know him as he has traveled far and wide, especially for works related to land kidu. Candidates will also matter.

These may be strengths that the new party to be formed has. But well established parties have strengthened their base. Candidates are working harder and it will be difficult for a new party to make inroads into constituencies who identify themselves with different parties, especially in the East. Further, there is another party, Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) in the fray. None can be undermined.

Thus, if all five political parties, including the one to be formed contest in the 2023 elections, it will be difficult for voters also to chose the candidate and party of their choice, especially in the Primaries. This will be the case especially in the East. The South has been king makers and the fact that they vote en-bloc makes the South more important. The Northern and Central voters, though not huge in numbers will also make a difference.

As said earlier, to resign from a coveted post is a very difficult decision. From this angle, it could be surmised that Dasho Pema resigned realizing that he can do more as a politician than a senior bureaucrat. He had told the media that if genuinely done, politics is the best way to serve the country and people. Many say the same, but when someone sacrifices a powerful post, what he/she says, appear more genuine.

It will be very interesting to see how Bhutan votes in the next general elections. But before the elections, there will definitely be several dramas, such as defection which parties allege are already happening, horse-trading and others. The ECB’s roles and responsibilities will increase.

The best party, based on people’s support will definitely win. Though there is still time, informal campaigning must have begun. There is one request from someone who is excited about the 2023 elections. Avoid creating divisions and name dropping. We are a country that cannot afford divisions at all costs. A party may win by doing so, but the nation will lose.