From Gasa Dzongkhag in the highland with the least voter numbers to Samtse the most populated Southern Dzongkhag, people voted for change. If given an opportunity, looks like most Bhutanese would desire changes in governing authority each year not every 5 years.
Looking at the election result, it seems that those in Western and Lhotsampa populated Dzongkhags are more regionally divisive or ethnically united than people beyond Pelela. However, this might not necessarily be indicative of the actual nature of the people. The gravity of the force of push and pull of campaign strategies could also have been a big factor as to how voters behaved.
The 2018 election was again somehow projected as us against them, poor versus rich, pro- Monarchy versus anti- Monarchy.
The end result is quite dramatic. The PDP Party which kept referring to its core dedication to the King was defeated in the Primary. And DPT Party which has been tagged as anti-monarchy lost out in the final round. The DNT Party has a President with established royalist credentials and presumed to be backed by elite groups and yet people opted for the anti- establishment tone and socialist pledges of DNT Party. In a way this response demonstrares thst the Bhutanese society is more socialist than capitalist or royalist.
The active combination of DNT and PDP in the final round proved decisive in swinging several constituencies in DNT favour. But the tell tale sign is the endurance and depth of DPT Party foundation which withstood all that the majority of Ngalongs, Lhotsampas, DNT plus PDP combined team and some more could throw at it. The end result was 55% voters for DNT that leaves 45% of voters for DPT all over the Kingdom. The variation in constituency number seems large but actual vote difference is only 10%. That means DPT too enjoys wide support especially in the light of very high voter turn out of over 71%. The divide is very distinct. Against the backdrop of this stark reality, I had humbly made a plea and pray for a National Coalition Government. We have to make attempts now to unite and not divide further. However, DNT the Party at the centre stage seems to be indicating that on its own the Party can succeed in bringing the nation together. Superficially yes in terms of law and order but in essence very doubtful. And the other three political Parties have maintained a ghostly public silence.
So where does the results of two stages of General Elections leave the politics of the Bhutanese nation?
1. The powers that be as in backers of different Parties do not want a strong democratic leader. The corner stone goal seems to be deny a second term to any Prime Minister. In fact the royal patented constitution does not permit more than two terms of PM post by an individual. Further the limit of maximum 65 years of birth age in active politics prevents entrenchment of political power in an individual. Haha ! Mr. Mahathir the 92 years old present Prime Minister of Malaysia would be circumbulating Memorial Chorten with a bead string in his hand if he happened to be a Bhutanese political leader. But jokes a aside, power do corrupt even pious hermits if held for long duration.
2. Bhutan does not need a challenger to the Throne in any form. I also believe the Kingdom is too small for two power centres. The King has to remain the number one authority for continued stability in a Kingdom. Otherwise like in Thailand both the King and the Prime Minister will be looking for Army support.
3. Changing Political Party and thereby the Prime Minister at every election may also indicate a dis-satisfaction in the royal prescribed democracy. The Indian type of democracy without monarchy was called for by Southern Bhutanese in their uprising of 1989-90. The Institution of Monarchy on its own had initiated democratic changes from 1952 with a people elected cum royal appointed National Assembly Body. The Wangchuck Dynasty completed the gradual democratic process in 2008 with the introduction of constitutional King democracy.
But the trend in vote for change is undeniable and it also clearly indicated that the Throne is not a crucial election issue as far as the general voters are concerned. An indication that people want more substantive changes but under the Wangchuck Dynasty. Corrections not overhaul.
Today during every General Election, the Kingdom seems to be caught in a quagmire of anxieties for the King who has to preserve the good health of the nation and the Monarchy versus the Political Parties, the deep distrust or fear among Sharchop communities and possibly foreign enhanced insecurity and resentment amongst Lhotsampa communities. The political web of complexities needs to be untangled. .
People in general are not unhappy with services and service facilities. They appreciate FCB and new fair price farm shops, helicopter emergency services, the farm roads and power tillers, the marketting service for farm products, the mobile networks, clean drinking water supplies and electricity in homes at subsidized rate, health & education services, efforts in increasing employment opportunities for youth, improved irrigation and facilitation of cash crops. They even understand the necessity of big loan Hydro Projects for self reliance goal. Bhutan has seen unprecedented development under the Wangchuck reigns. Its kind of a leap from medieval age to modern era in 110 years. Something to be proud about though not comparable to say the transformation of Japan in about 30 years after disastrous WW II. And yet change is what people continue to demand and support in every election. It could be a search beyond material services and infratructure developments though these are very essential.
4. In all three General Elections, it has been shown that democratic politics in Bhutan is determined by the swings of majority ethnic groups. The social grouping nature of Sharchops and Lhotsampas along with their majority in number are more attuned to democratic politics than minority Ngalongs further weakened by their individualistic social nature. Perhaps one valid reason to stick with Monarchy for us the out numbered Ngalongs.
5. The East cannot have fundamental antipathy against the Monarchy as perceived in some section of the socio- political heirachy. The Wangchuck Dynasty originated from the East and the Royal Family tree root is more widely spread in Eastern Dzongkhags than in the West. In 2013, the perception that the King backed PDP candidates versus DPT candidates somehow disturbed the psyche of Party supporters from different parts of Bhutan not just that of East. And this led to the outburst of grievances at DPT Party Meeting in July, 2013. The actual reason for 2013 DPT supporters' outburst relates to the PDP Party campaign. PDP had claimed to be pro- King Party and tagged DPT Party as anti- King during election campaigns. The strategy proved to be a magical wand serving well the interests of PDP Party but most damaging to the national embodiment.
In democratic polity, election rhetorics takes all kinds of shapes and sizes. Bhutanese politicians adopted the external election rhetorics of allegations and deception. But the traditional Bhutanese rural society especially the under developed communities in the East are ill prepared for such an onslaught of allegations and falsehoods. For example in Western Dzongkhag like Haa unless directly charged by the King, such allegation of being anti- King would be laughed off as being rediculous. Who would dare to be so stupid to be anti- King in a Kingdom ! But Eastern community suffers from an attitude of deep servitude when it comes to Royalties and Rimpochees. Its like Lhotsampa caste system. They react badly if so accused because they feel rejected. That I feel is the irony of social fabric in the East. The people feel rejected by their revered idols and thus the grievance arising from dejection. Not a revolt. Just a wail of fish beached on the hot sand.
6. At one time, maybe, the Lhotsampa population was more pro Nepal and India than Bhutan. But this has changed in the last 20 years. I think that is a very smart change of socio- political move. With Nepal or India, Lhotsampa population would be insignificant. I do not think that Nepalese of Nepal was even that hospitable in attitude towards Japha refugee camp residents. But in Bhutan, the prominence of now Lhotsampas ( no more the Nepalese of Southern Bhutan ) is guaranteed. Thus they are for Bhutan but not necessarily traditional Bhutan.
Right now most people including media view election in Bhutan as competition between the East and West. But that is not correct. In democracy where majority vote means power, the Sharchops and Lhotsampas are in competition with minority Ngalongs as pivotal factor. And just as the outcome of Primary election would be determined by two largest ethnic groups, the Final round outcome will be decided by the minority Ngalongs. The West, however, is gradually undergoing demopraphic changes and with it naturally the socio- political outlook.
7. It is also natural for security forces and Ngalong population to vote against any percieved threat against Monarchy. The soldiers have taken the oath to protect the King and Country. And hard working Ngalongs who are more individualistic natured than Sharchops and Lhotsampas retain deep faith in the Wangchuck Dynasty for ending war and strifes that had western Bhutan in turmoil for so many centuries. I put the stability of the nation as number one in my political priorities because a peaceful stable environment permits self determination. No need of handouts. And the King represents stability. Knowing this fact, the Political Parties with Presidents from western Bhutan have tended to conduct a campaign strategy as being more dedicated to the King than a Political Party headed by a leader beyond Pelela the traditional dividing line between West and East Bhutan. Such an election strategy is not only to buoy up supports from Ngalongs and security forces but also to dampen morales elsewhere into submission.
And this strategy finds welcome support among a section of influential elite hierachy who somehow wants to paint DPT and all supporters in anti- royal colour. And perhaps this vindictiveness more than any other actual factors has sown seed of suspicion in royal mind and caused fear or distrust amongst the communities especially in the East. Most sad and unwarranted.
8. It is necessary to analyse the vote patterns in the national Elections. And understand why the three regional zones of Bhutan differ so starkly in their preferences? The votes are not really Eastern region versus Southern plus Western regions. Both Pema Gatsel and Samdrup Jongkhar are in the Southern region. The reality is the divide between traditional beyond Pelela region versus Lhotsampa populated Dzongkhags aligned with the West. The demographic contrast is undeniable.
By dzongkhag wise number, it is 8 Dzongkhags versus 12 Dzongkhags. But in reality Dzongkhags like Haa and Gasa are large in land size but thinly populated and comparable to few geogs beyond Pelela. So its 50 versus 50 demographically.
Does the votes mean that the Ngalongs and Lhotsampas think alike? Not at all. The call for Indian type democracy was made from the South. The Ngalongs have been quite contended with absolute monarchy system. I think we Ngalongs simply count the pluses and minuses of a monarchy regime and are contended with pluses in the majority. Democracy and wrest of power for power sake is not an Ngalong quest. Maybe basic human rights !
9. Let me explain further this percept about democracy and basic rights. For example, democracy as such is not my quest. I do not thirst for equal power. But I believe in basic human rights. A right to be individal with self identity. Thats why I find it appalling that a Bhutanese mother has to seek royal prerogative to obtain citizenship for her own born child out of wedlock/ illegitimate or baby is fathered by a non-Bhutanese. How very humilating a situation in an acclaimed gnh democratic Kingdom ! A baby coming out of a Bhutanese vagina or DNA proved Bhutanese father from foreign mother should have natural right to Bhutanese citizenship. Do not tell me thats upsurping royal prerogatives. I view it as an encroachment to basic right of a citizen.
For very sound national reasons, citizenship cases for foreigners, foreign spouses of Bhutanese or foreign child adopted by Bhutanese should be royal prerogative to prevent misuse of citizenship grant by other authorities. But here the very discussion of the plight of such Bhutanese mothers and children are forbidden and penalised as in ECB banning a lady political candidate from campaigning and levying monetary fines. It is such deep similar hurts of tearing the womb or life apart that ultimately give rise to hard core feelings against any institution of authority. One has to understand the trials and traumas of the womb in nourishing forth a baby to feel the excruciating pain caused by such cruel laws of denials. We need to collectively pray that His Majesty the King and the Government would be humanely sensitive and compassionate to matters of Bhutanese womb and genes.
10. It seems diffiicult for Bhutanese authorities to fanthom what Bhutanese society is seeking. Since royal prescribed democracy was introduced in 2008, successive governments have faithfully fulfilled their campaign pledges upon which they were elected and yet each such government has been rejected after one term. So there have to be some underlying fault lines unprepared to be discovered or addressed by Political Leaders and too sensitive to be publicly listed by the people in individual capacity.
Certainly these cannot be quenched by a mandir here, promises of a church & grave yard place there and temples everywhere. For gods if necessary can be housed in the crevices of the heart but not so some other intangible indispensabilities related to life and living.
11. I am by birth a loyal Haap and by patriotism a royalist. But I am definitely not anti- Sharchop or anti- Lhotsampa. It was I who first wrote about the need to reconcile after southern uprising. I had wanted the nation to heal from the wounds of Southern rebellion. I stand genuinely for Tsawa Sum ( The King, Country and People ). And even in the wildest of my foolhardy folly, I cannot discount the importance of the participations of fellow Bhutanese of the East and the South along side those of us in the West in the, hereafter, well being of Druk Yul. The three regional zones and ethnics together form the sturdy tripod upon which the raven crown rests. Bhutan does not even have a population of the size of the nearest neighbouring Indian district of Jalpaiguri which includes the vast Siluguri town. It is suicidal for the Bhutanese nation to practise divide rule over such a miniscule population. As Dr. Lotay Tshering now the hon'ble PM Elect said, it should be possible to accord equal services as part of basic human need of a citizen. And I do not mean just health services.
12. First and foremost the regional divide and segregation in ethnic, religion, caste and gender need to be addressed. Therefore, my humble call for a National Coalition Government System. Such an inclusive government can represent all sections of the three regions and three main ethnics. And bring about trust, faith and equality within the Kingdom. One People one King is sacred to one nation.
National Coalition Government System is not a wild impractical political thought. Before 2013 election, when I mooted aloud the idea of voting from place of residence, it was considered good idea but impractical. But facilitation booth voting came about in this year general election. Ofcourse my call was far more reaching. It is not difficult to enable some 300,000 voters to vote through EVM or traditional ballot box from their place of residence.
The political Parties and His Majesty the King have a huge responsibility to make whole a divided nation. We are not a broken Kingdom. Just need to bring down the percieved shades between the three regional zones and different ethnics & beliefs. And National Coalition Government System could achieve this goal if implemented with sincere intent.
13. For the record, I do not think the recent publicity campaigns in form of press releases by DNT Party declaring itself to be a Party of national representative intent can adequately soothe the hurt or seal the divide. Nevertheless, such public declarations are very good appreciable conciliatory gestures which I value and am thankful for sake of Bhutan. But it can not substitude the intent and substantive assurances and goodwill a National Coalition Government System can generate. Its a pity that political parties and institutions are not as yet prepared to take one critical step in the direction of healing a wounded Kingdom. Someday in the near future, I pray that this good seed though seemingly thrown in the wilderness now, will germinate and blossom to beautify the Bhutanese society.
May our Druk Yul shine in full glow by blessings of our Deities and accumulative goodwill of the people and benevolence of the King. Palden Drukpa Gyel Lo !