Public commends display of unity

In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister (PM) Dasho Tshering Tobgay met with members of the Opposition Party on April 3, 2024. In Bhutan’s democratic sojourn, this is the first time that the Opposition party members have met the PM at the suggestion of the PM, outside the parliament.  While posts from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said that the meet was for discussions on the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP), the public, especially political observers say meetings of this kind are important and laud the PM.

“One of the outcomes of the parliamentary elections this time has been the perceived division of political allegiance along political lines. Dasho Pema Chewang, the Opposition Leader (OL) went all out during an interview with BBS that the East also voted for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Those aware will know the truth; but there are many who think so, which include people from outside Bhutan,” Sonam Dorji, an aspiring politician said. “It does not paint a good picture of Bhutan and the meeting where the PM met the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) members of parliament (MPs) is also a demonstration that the government will not leave behind regions that did not vote for the PDP,” Dorji added.

Dorji said “it is imperative for both sides to prioritize national unity and ensure equitable development across all regions, irrespective of the electoral outcomes.” “For the government, particularly in regions where they may have faced electoral setbacks, it is crucial to adopt an inclusive and proactive approach to address the needs of the populace,” he said.

A retired civil servant Pema Pema said that for a nation like Bhutan, “fostering collaboration between the ruling party and the opposition is not just important but imperative”. “The success and efficacy of policies, especially those as ambitious as the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP), hinge upon the ability of all political stakeholders to come together, transcending ideological differences for the collective welfare of the nation,” he said. Pema underlined that the 13th FYP, is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious strategic frameworks laid out for Bhutan’s development and “represents a crucial roadmap for the country’s progress across various sectors.” “However, the realization of its goals depends significantly on the unity and cooperation within the parliament. The parliament embodies the collective will of the people and holds the responsibility to address challenges and formulate effective solutions that align with the nation’s long-term vision,” Pema noted.

According to Pema, the PM should meet the Opposition frequently. “By doing so, the government can harness the diverse perspectives of both the ruling party and the Opposition. Meeting outside the parliament is very important and I would say that other cabinet members should also meet the Opposition members.” “No one will think that the government does not know and is thus seeking advice. While the ruling party provides leadership and direction, the Opposition plays a vital role in offering scrutiny, alternative viewpoints, and checks and balances to ensure accountability and transparency in governance,” Pema added.

Moving on, Pema mentioned that the 13th FYP and the advancement of Bhutan’s developmental agenda necessitate a spirit of unity, cooperation, and mutual respect among all stakeholders in the parliament. “By transcending partisan divides and working together towards a common goal, Bhutan can navigate through challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and continue its journey towards sustainable progress and prosperity for all its citizens.”

A Bhutanese working for a civil society organization (CSO) said that upon examination, the pledges of both the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP), are similar. “One cannot help but notice the striking similarities between their proposed agendas. Indeed, many observers have noted that both parties seem to draw heavily from the blueprint laid out in the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP). This convergence of priorities underscores the importance of collaboration and cooperation between political factions, transcending party lines for the collective benefit of Bhutanese society,” he said.

In his words, the alignment of pledges with the 13th FYP reflects a shared recognition among political leaders of the overarching national goals outlined in the strategic framework. It indicates a common understanding of the pressing challenges and opportunities facing the country across various sectors, including economic development, social welfare, environmental conservation, and cultural preservation. “Rather than engaging in divisive rhetoric or partisan bickering, both the PDP and the BTP recognize the need for unity and solidarity in pursuit of Bhutan’s long-term prosperity and well-being,” he said.

He added that the resemblance in pledges reflects a commitment to upholding the values of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and ensuring that policies prioritize the holistic well-being of the Bhutanese people, rather than merely focusing on narrow economic metrics.

“In this context, the need for collaboration becomes even more pronounced. By working together, the PDP and the BTP can leverage their respective strengths and perspectives to enhance the effectiveness and inclusivity of policy formulation and implementation,” he said, adding that collaboration fosters a more robust democratic process, where diverse voices are heard, and decisions are made through dialogue, compromise, and consensus-building.

Tandin Tshering, an entrepreneur based in Thimphu said collaboration between political parties serves to instill public confidence in the democratic institutions of Bhutan. When citizens witness their elected representatives setting aside differences to work towards common goals, it reinforces the legitimacy of the political system and strengthens social cohesion. “And it is very relevant today as some people in pockets of the country have heard that they will be targeted for not supporting one party or the other. The meeting between the PM and the BTP members of parliament is testament that such things will not happen.”

“Similarly, the opposition, especially in regions where they experienced electoral defeat, should also play a constructive role in ensuring that the interests and welfare of constituents are not overlooked,” Tshering said, as some leaders of the government may not listen to their constituents. “While holding the government accountable for its actions, the opposition should actively engage in advocating for the needs and concerns of the people in their respective regions. This entails collaborating with local leaders, civil society organizations, and grassroots movements to identify priority areas for intervention and championing initiatives that promote inclusive growth and development,” Tshering said, underling that collaboration between political factions, particularly in regions where electoral divisions are pronounced, is essential for building trust, fostering dialogue, and finding sustainable solutions to pressing challenges.

“I do not have a good memory. But many say that this meeting between the PM and the Opposition is happening for the first time since the advent of democracy in Bhutan. The meeting is symbolic: it showcases that the PM understands the role and strengths of the Opposition. Similarly, the Opposition members know that they have a greater or even equal role as the government to play in the next five years,” Tshering concluded.

By Ugyen Tenzin, Thimphu