Face to Face with Passang Dorji

Business Bhutan reporter Chencho Dema caught up with Passang Dorji, a former journalist and PhD scholar, to talk about his venture into politics. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) declared Passang as its candidate for Bartsham-Shongphu Constituency, Trashigang, for the 2018 National Assembly elections, last Tuesday.

1.Tell us a bit about yourself

Answer: I am Passang Dorji from Yangnyer Gewog, Trashigang Dzongkhag. At present, I am in my final year of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) project in International Relations at City University of Hong Kong. My PhD research is on Bhutan’s foreign relations. I hold a Masters Degree in Management from the University of Canberra, Australia, and Bachelors Degree in Economics from Sherubtse College, Kanglung.

I started my career as an Employment Officer with the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources of Bhutan. I resigned from the civil service to become a journalist. In my journalistic career, I served as a reporter and news editor in various Bhutanese newspapers and president of the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan.  After my stint in journalism, I worked as a consultant to numerous government and international organizations in Bhutan.

2.What motivated you to join politics?

Answer: I look at politics as a socio-political and cultural institution that provides a platform for human interactions and battle of ideas that lead to progress through effective participatory governance. The democratic politics of Bhutan that I have now become part of presents an opportunity to see what one can do to contribute toward helping reap the best of democracy. My motivation to join politics lies in my strong belief that democracy can be made to work for our country’s progress, if we want to. I find being part of this process exciting and worth the effort. And venturing into politics is testing yourself what you can do for your fellow citizens.

3.Why Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) of all other political parties?

Answer: Firstly, DPT was the first political party to offer me a party ticket to run for office in 2018. Secondly, for me, choosing a political party, for that matter any organization to work for, is a matter of principle based on which you need to be willing to commit yourself. I could identify myself with the fundamental principles and vision of the party.

4.Your views on Bhutanese politics

Answer: If we want our democracy to succeed, I think we need to discuss about issues that could come our way as stumbling blocks. Political mistrust, venting political vendetta, and character assassination among political parties and political figures seem to define the contour of our political environment and democratic culture. That too for mere electoral gains or to cover up one’s failings. That might not help us strengthen our democracy. We must accept that our experience as a democratic polity has been both daunting and exciting. Some challenges we faced in the past few years have even challenged our traditional societal fabric that gave us a formidable social, political and cultural unity as a nation, which in turn, has been the pillar of our sovereignty and independence. Political parties and politicians (now including myself) must respect the fact that we have no moral or political legitimacy to handover a bad democracy to our future generations.

Bhutan’s democracy based on its social and cultural uniqueness expressed in the Constitution can be a unique polity. But we tend to import political culture of some neighboring countries. We must know that they are not a good example to follow. Some countries that succeeded as democracies similar to our size, societal values and vision lie beyond our immediate neighborhood.

Political parties and politicians need to know that young democracies often face challenges, internal and external, that could test the very core of the political strength as a nation. Both at the political leadership and electorate levels, it has to be realized that ‘the most expensive thing in the world is something that comes for free’. There could be external forces trying to leverage the domestic political fault lines. Smaller countries exposed to political, economic and strategic vulnerability often lose political, policy, and economic autonomy to external players when they end up politicizing their foreign policies. Experiences of small countries in our neighborhood and beyond could be a guide to our resilient national future.

5.What makes you a better candidate compared to candidates of other parties from your constituency?

Answer: In a democracy, it is up to the voters to decide which candidate is better. At the same time, not all registered political parties have declared their candidates for Bartsham-Shongphu constituency. There is, however, a rumor going round that some potential candidates from other political parties have been campaigning while in office as civil servants, that too on government expenses. I wish that is just a rumor. I believe established political parties and individuals of repute will not stoop that low.

6.What could be your role in shaping the future of Bhutan’s democracy?

Answer: I think political watchers of Bhutan will agree with me that 2018 election will be a defining one in Bhutan’s democratic history. It will not only give us some indication about how Bhutan’s democracy would shape up in the immediate years to come, but will also tell if we so-called politicians are capable of making our democracy succeed.

I am deeply interested to work toward making our democracy harmonious and non-divisive. As a small society, divisive and partisan politics will threaten our national security, sovereignty and independence. Examples are plenty in international politics where small countries have become the victims of geopolitics because of their divisive and hostile domestic politics. Bhutan must avoid this mistake to succeed as a nation.