By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan.
Though still a few months away, Bhutan is in the grip of the “election fever.” Four new political parties are likely to join the fray. Even candidates for some of the constituencies are being discussed in the media.
What should be worrying the government is not about democracy which is taking deep roots, but the economy that still appears to be in trouble.
The Indian rupee shortage continues despite desperate measures taken by the government to stem the tide though some observers rightly feel that the measures taken are sound and would take time to get reflected in the economy. Added to the rupee problem is the shortage now experienced in foreign exchange.
The ambitious programme of getting into stream the ten major hydroelectric projects by 2012 also appears to be stalled. Only three projects are being completed as scheduled as others are getting mired in bureaucratic procedures and financial problems.
Bhutan got a taste of its own position in the world when it lost its bid to get representation in the Security Council and the irony was that it got just 20 votes as against Cambodia and South Korea who got more votes! Some cynics would say that it is because of Bhutan being too close to India! . In my view Bhutan was ill advised by India to contest the elections in the first place.
To cap it all, one US-BASED academic Dr. David who had stayed in Bhutan for a short period made an unfair criticism of the very basis of the philosophy of the concept of “Gross National Happiness” and added that countries like Singapore and Sweden are better candidates to claim about national happiness than Bhutan! Surprising that he failed to notice that in the interior villages in Bhutan, people are generally happy and contented despite the harsh environment and the insulated nature of the village economy. To add insult to injury, he remarked that “Bhutan over promises and under delivers.” Bhutan never claimed that it is a shining example of GNH but what is the harm in a country trying to achieve its own way to achieve the Buddhist ideals that form the basis of the GNH? Has material prosperity alone brought any happiness to those living in the west?
Coming to the elections in 2013
They are likely to be held sometime in the last week of April 2013 and well before that the elections to the National Council will be held. ( February-March?)
Some important features in the elections this time would include-
- There will be no “mock election” as people have generally become aware of the procedures.
- Each contesting candidate is being given an enhanced allowance of Nu 130,000 to meet the election expenses.
- There is a welcome move to amend the rules to permit people to vote “in situ” rather than going to places where they are registered residents. This is necessary in view of the inhospitable terrain and the difficulties that will be experienced by people working in the urban centres.
- The most controversial aspect of the current elections will be that those who got elected in the local bodies will not be permitted to resign and contest in the general elections. The Election Commission has declared that unless the locally elected individuals are medically unfit and cannot function effectively, they will be disallowed to resign or else they will have to reimburse the cost of getting them elected.
It looks that the position of the election commission appears to be untenable. How does one compute the cost of someone who got elected to the local bodies? Secondly in a democracy how can one prevent a person from contesting when he has no criminal record? The reason given for the move is all the more absurd when it is being justified that not enough candidates were forthcoming for election to the local bodies! Perhaps Gyalpo 5 may have to intervene.
- Six parties are lined up to contest the elections. Of these, four are new besides the existing two parties the DPT in power and the PDP in opposition. Interestingly, even these two became eligible only recently after having cleared the debts incurred in the last general elections.
The four parties are
1. DNT: Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa- The main plank of this party is to end “political corruption” an ambitious philosophy and unlikely to be achieved ( see our experience in India!). The other objectives of the party are also somewhat confused – is said to be a mixture of social democracy, universal freedom, human values etc.
2. DCT: Druk Chaiwang Tshogpa: Is said to the party that campaign “voice for the voiceless.” Its president is a former foreign service officer- Lily Wangchuk.
3. DMT: Druk Miksher Tshogpa: Not much is known about the party as yet.
4. BKP: Bhutan Kuengyam Party: This party has already submitted its application for registration with the Election commission. Rather unprecedented and unique aspect of this party is that it has offered a cabinet post to the opposition party if elected!
On the Refugee issue
The Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal made a strange demand and perhaps for the first time that Bhutan should absorb the remaining residue of about 15000 refugees in Nepal who have declined to accept third country settlement! When Bhutan has not accepted its own citizens who were acknowledged to be in category I of the Kudenabari camp, where is the question of accepting others who are mostly radicalised? The recent incident of two “light” bombs that exploded on 21st September near the newly constructed bridge in Sunkosh of southern Bhutan should be an indicator of shape of things to come. An unknown outfit that goes by the name Bhutan United Social Democratic Party, claimed responsibility for the incident.
Finally, one cannot but admire the sentiments expressed by King Gyalpo 5 in his address to the National Graduates Orientation Programme 2012 on 20th August. He said that he is “proud of our unique culture, traditions and heritage that we have managed to preserve-Proud of our pristine environment and the respect for all the sentient beings- Proud of the manner in which democracy was introduced in a country which is unprecedented in history.” The only fault I still hold against the country is the manner in which it treated some of its own citizens who languished in the refugee camps in Nepal for almost two decades.