Bhutan Votes For Change

Bhutan has completed its two-phase National Assembly elections. Voting for the lower house of Bhutan’s parliament was keenly watched, especially by her neighbours. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has won the elections. DNT President Dr. Lotay Tshering would be the new Prime Minister of Bhutan.  The DNT, which was formed in 2013 when it secured third position in that year’s National Assembly elections, won 30 seats in the 47-seat Bhutanese National Assembly. The previous opposition party, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), bagged 17 seats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Dr. Lotay Tshering on his party’s victory in the third general elections in Bhutan and his own election to the National Assembly. The Indian Prime Minister also welcomed the successful conduct of Bhutan’s general elections, which he describedais ‘an important milestone for consolidation of democracy in Bhutan’.

Mr. Modi conveyed that India attaches highest priority to further strengthening the unique ties of friendship and cooperation with Bhutan, which is based on shared interests and values, utmost trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding. It may be noted that Bhutan was the first country that Prime Minister Modi had visited after assuming office in May 2014. Indian External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj has called Bhutan “India’s best friend”. The Indian Prime Minister also invited Dr. Tshering to visit India.

The newly elected Bhutanese leader thanked Prime Minister Modi for his greetings and accepted the invitation to visit India at the earliest opportunity.

Bhutan had experienced a major political transition in 2008 when the Himalayan country adopted a new Constitution followed by the first National Assembly elections. Bhutan peacefully transitioned to a monarchical constitutional democracy from a hereditary monarchy. Since then, Bhutan has seen a mature democracy with each election. Transition of power from the ruling party to interim government has been so far peaceful and reflected strengthening of democracy during the last decade.

The primary election results were a bit surprising. Four political parties – People’s Democratic Party (PDP), DPT, DNT and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP)­-contested in the primary rounds of the National Assembly elections. DNT secured the maximum number of votes and emerged as the most popular party in terms of vote sharing and popularity. The DPT stood second. The ruling PDP slipped into third position. The BKP party secured the lowest number of votes.

The victory of the DNT shows that the 2018 elections was primarily a vote for change. According to the Election Commission of Bhutan, the 2018-elections were mostly peaceful barring some technical problems with a few Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The voter turnout was over 71.61 per cent, which was higher than the 2013 elections when voter turnout was 66.1 percent.

In the three National Assembly elections so far since 2008, the Bhutanese people have chosen three different parties to form the governments. In the 2013-election, the voters had chosen the PDP over the incumbent DPT. However, the PDP was unable to qualify in the primary round this time.

The DNT’s popular election campaign slogans, including its’ promise to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor as stated in its manifesto, and extensive campaigning in the rural areas might have played a crucial role in garnering support from all across the country.

However, the incoming Bhutanese government could face challenges in implementing its popular programmes as stated its’ manifesto due to shortage of resources. The DNT’s election manifesto was a mix of populist promises and development agenda. It also had promised to fulfil all those promises in 120 days. Another challenge could be to win the trust of both China and India. Bhutan also wants to resolve its long standing border disputes with China. This could be tricky. Besides, the incoming government could face problems domestically too, especially in tackling growing regionalism over language and developmental issues in some parts of the Himalayan Kingdom.

Script: Dr. Nihar R Nayak, Research Fellow, Idsa