Who would be the King Makers?

Countdown to the 30th of November 2023

On November 30, 2023, the primary round elections for the Fourth National Assembly (NA) will be held and towards the evening of the last day of November 2023, Bhutan will know which two political parties from the five would become members of the NA. At this stage, it is difficult to sift the winners from the losers. Due to reasons ranging from commitment to even fear, the average Bhutanese voter refrains from saying who he/she would vote for. Nonetheless, there always are King Makers, swing votes and others that differentiate the winners from the losers. A close look at the 2018 primary round elections could give a slight indication of what might transpire.

In 2018, the total number of registered voters was 438,663, out of which 304,868 had registered at the EVM and 133,795 for the postal ballots. However, only 293,954 turned to vote;182,518 at the EVM and 108,580 through the PB. The total voter turnout was 67.1 percent.

From the four parties, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) secured 18,064 votes at the EVM and 10,409 through PB. The party took 28,473 of the vote share, accounting for 9.78%.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) won 92,722 votes; 55,166 at the EVM and 37,556  through PB. The party’s vote share was 31.85%.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) won 53,108 votes at the EVM and 36,912 through PB. The total vote won was 90,020, which was 30.92% of the total votes.

People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won 56,180 votes at the EVM and 23,703 through PB. The total votes garnered were 79,883 or 27.44%.

The PDP won at the EVM but lost because of PB. It could secure only 21.82 % of the total PB cast. However, in 2018, there were facilitation booths too, which increased the number of votes cast through PB. Looking at this figure, it can be said that the PDP did not get the support of those who had access to PB, such as the public servants, military, students and others, which the DNT and DPT did.

In the last five years, several students have become civil servants. Nonetheless, those who were public servants in 2018 still are in office, though some have resigned and left for greener pastures. Has PDP in the last five years managed to turn the PB voters in their favor? If the scenario today is not different from 2018, PDP has an uphill task.

Further, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) had not provided PB to all. Private and even some corporate employees will need to go to their villages to vote. If these voters will not go to their villages to vote and assuming that they did not support PDP in 2018, PDP stands to benefit.

DPT in 2018 won from 22 constituencies. Of these, only two, Lamgong-Wangchang and Dophuchen-Tading constituencies were from the West and South. The other 20 constituencies were from Eastern and Central Bhutan. And in 13 constituencies, the party won by huge margins.

Will people from the East still support DPT? Isn’t three terms of support not enough? These are questions critics ask.

The southern and western votes were split between PDP and DNT. Will this remain the same this time?

Another important factor is the emergence of two new parties; Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) and Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT). Which of the three old parties would be most affected by the two new parties? This is a very important question and the answer will be known only on November 30, 2023. Political observers say that in the East especially, BTP and DTT has affected all the three parties. In 2018 for instance, DPT won 4,066 votes from Khar-Yurung in Pemagatshel. DNT won 1489 and PDP only 411. However, with BTP having fielded a strong candidate, it is assumed that DPT’s vote share from the constituency would decrease. Similarly, DPT in 2018 secured 2,741 votes from Kanglung-Udzorong-Samkhar constituency. As BTP’s President is from this constituency, words are that DPT and/or other parties may not be able to beat a party’s president.

In the primary round, everything boils down to winning from constituencies that have a huge voter population. As of October 1, 2023, the ECB said that there are 496,836 eligible voters for the upcoming elections. Of this, 53,386 voters are from Samtse, 52,932 from Trashigang, 38,727 from Monggar and 34,930 from Sarpang. A massive 36.2 percent of the voters are from these four districts.

If a political party has done its homework and ensured that they win massively from just this four districts, the primaries would be an easy journey. Just like the East, BTP and DTT has also focused on the South and made a base for themselves. Thus, PDP and DNT may not get the same kind of support like they received from the South in 2018, just as the DPT in the East.

Another important facet of elections are manifestos of the parties. However, politicians themselves have said on national television and mainstream media that people have lost faith in democracy because of pledges made, which are hardly fulfilled. The question is if people will be swayed by pledges, especially if they are a repetition of what were earlier made.

It would be premature to say that a certain region or group would be the “King Makers.” Nonetheless, differences will be made by several factors, beginning from postal ballots. Parties cannot take the rural people for granted, too. In the past, a few thousands would have worked, but most of the current lot of voters understands that their votes are not for sale. They need a government that can improve their lives. Youths need a government that can help them get a job or start a business. Every party says they will deliver. But parties need the support of the people. They are the “King Makers.”

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu