Money-Politics Nexus – a Danger for Bhutan’s Democracy

Observers agree that money (funds) have become an integral part of politics in Bhutan and that those without money may not even get the opportunity to participate as candidates

In another milestone of Bhutan’s political journey, Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) was officially registered as a political party on August 22, 2022, becoming the sixth political party to be registered.

While the registration has been obtained, the party has a lot to do and in the words of the Party President, Kinga Tshering, the greatest challenges are political presence, recognition, and finance. Political observers also agree about it.

Kinga Tshering said that as the party is new, the public may not recognize the party. However, he said that DTT plans to reach out to all dzongkhags to introduce the party with permission from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB). He said that the party will appoint gewog and chiwog coordinators.

Another challenge of the new party would be mobilizing resources, the President said, which the party plans to raise through membership and registration fees and voluntary donations. Similarly, the party’s general secretary (GS) Wangchuk shared similar concerns. He said, “The presence of the party is not felt now.”

While the president and GS did not elaborate on what kind of funds the party is talking about, a former member of another political party said that despite very stringent rules from the ECB, complaints from rival parties, and others, money has become an integral part of politics in Bhutan.

“You need money to travel around, meet people, and campaign. And in doing so, politicians have to take gifts for their supporters and coordinators. Then, you need money to give as ‘soelra,’ at houses you visit and stay,” he said, adding there have also been instances of reports filed to the ECB even about bribery during elections in the past.

He added that DTT may not face the “standpoint” challenge as people know that a new party is coming. “As there is only one new party as of now, the party also has an edge. However, in terms of funds, the party definitely will face challenges,” he said.

Senior media personnel and political observer added that money and politics are now entangled and the bond is becoming stronger by the day. “Candidates need money and I have heard that political parties also look for candidates who are rich and can contribute unless you are a very strong candidate in a constituency.”

He added that it is a very unpleasant development and would deprive those who are capable but not economically well-off of joining politics. “Only if you have money can you go frequently to your constituency to the campaign. Further, giving gifts is an integral part of our culture. People come with Tshogchangs, where you need to give some money,” he said.

An aspiring politician also had the same to say. “I do not know who should be blamed. Perhaps the ball falls in the courts of former candidates and parties and giving gifts and money has become part of politics,” he said.

According to him, when he called up his supporters saying he is coming to the constituency just for a visit, his supporters gave him a list of what should be brought.

“It is gold-toe full stockings for men; tegos or wonjos for women. I was also asked to bring new crispy currencies of denominations ranging from Nu 100 to Nu 1,000,” he said, adding that his supporters even knew from which shop in Thimphu I could get the materials at a cheaper rate.

A former supporter of a political party said she was surprised to see the amount of money a candidate had in the 2018 elections.

“He had brought several gifts including plates, cups, and others. Apart from that, he had enough money to give as ‘soelras,’” she said, adding that she has now told people to take whatever politicians give, irrespective of which political party they belong to.

“Ultimately, you can vote for the party of your choice,” she said.

Further, she mentioned that there is enough time, even now for the ECB to do something. “I understand that the ECB has other important things to do.

However, an area they should focus on is money and politics. If not, democracy in Bhutan could become like those of other countries, where money determines who wins.”

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu