Third parties are chalking out election strategies as they start readying themselves for parliamentary elections slated for 2018. However, the question is if there’s any bite to their bark.

The three political parties outside Parliament and another two in the making are confident that they can unseat the two oldest parties – opposition Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The two parties, which have enjoyed the lime light by virtue of being in parliament, will boast of their experience. However, the danger for them is that the same could turn against them.

The ruling party will face the incumbency factor. And the opposition party is struggling to deal with a sedition charge, which has marred its image and potentially affects the party’s future.

One of the hopefuls, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), has its own theory to believe that it can win. The party, which possesses the experience of fighting a primary election, believes that the Bhutanese people believe in change and that there is a perception that no party should be in power for a long period.

Requesting anonymity, a DNT member however, admitted that “there is no guarantee and anything can happen”.  He cited the example of people embracing change by voting for PDP in 2013.

“The current government has done fairly well although they lost in 2008,” he said. Of the parties in the making, there will likely be four third parties fighting to book their maiden berth in the general elections, which will ensure their place in Parliament either as opposition or the ruling party.

Like the opposition and ruling parties, however, DNT is not without a controversy. A number of senior members of DNT, including its former president and current works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden joined PDP after the 2013 primary in which they secured 17 percent of the total votes cast.

Chheku Drukpa of Druk Gaki Tshogpa, a party in the making, says that the party’s ideology which he claims will unite the people of Bhutan will be its biggest asset. “We will be the most popular party in 2018. I am confident,” he said.

He said that the party’s manifesto will be finalized soon. The party according to him, is looking for candidates and members.

However, one year ahead of the election, its members are yet to come together for a meeting. He said that the party aims to build a membership base of 5,000 to 10,000 people from across the country. He said four aspiring candidates have agreed to contest on his party’s ticket.

Jigme Drukpa, founding member of another party in the making, Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa, says he has been sleeping less than five hours for the last three months to focus on party works.

He has his own reasons to believe his party has a real chance. “I am a hard-working person and have loyalty to the country,” he said, adding that thsoe are the qualities of a winner.

He claims that more than 40 candidates have been confirmed and revealed names of five including himself – Thimphu-based business woman Pema Wangmo from the Talo-Kabji constituency and Sonam Tobgay from the Nanong-Shumar constituency. According to him, while Pema Wangmo holds a PhD, Sonam Tobgay is a PhD student in Australia.

Tshering Dorji and Sonam Pelden will be the candidates from the Gangjur-Menji and Radhi-Sakten constituencies respectively. “They have consented to be revealed,” he said. He is from the Menbi-Tsenkhar constituency.

The aspiring party is yet to gather its members for a meeting although Jigme Drukpa says that he will soon file for registration with the election commission. “I am the sole person working behind the party now although our manifesto is being drafted by a lawyer,” he said.

Bhutan Kuenyam Party (BKP) president Sonam Tobgay in an earlier interview told Kuensel that “only God can stop his party” from winning the upcoming elections. “We will form the government in 2018,” he said.

History has shown that having a popular and influential president to lead the party and interpret the agenda is crucial for winning an election. However, the parties say they believe in having a good manifesto and collective leadership.

Jigme Drukpa said: “Definitely, Jigme Drukpa will not be the president,” adding that a strong leader will take charge of the party as the election approaches. He said it was not appropriate for him to reveal most of the aspiring candidates as they are in the civil service.

DNT is expected to reveal a new president, while Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) will most probably be led by the current president Lily Wangchuk, if at all the party decides to enter the fray. Dr Tandi Dorji from Punakha is the interim president of DNT.

Stakes are especially higher for DCT. It must fight the upcoming elections on its own expenses as it will not be entitled for state funding for failing to garner a minimum of 10 percent of the votes in 2013. The party will be dissolved if it does not meet the 10 percent threshold again.

It’s not clear whether BKP’s current president Sonam Tobgay will lead the party himself in 2018 although sources say that the party is looking for a stronger president.

Meanwhile, DNT will be using social media to reach out to the people. It will soon upload its messages on YouTube, Wechat and Facebook as part of its “Dendur and Toten” programme.

Through this programme, the party will not only convey its messages, but also receive feedback and comments.

“We are looking for innovative ways to reach out to the people,” said the DNT member. “A message has been already taped for releasing by the end of this month,” he said.

Jigme Drukpa said he is not worried about losing the elections. “We will emerge as the best option,” he said.

MB Subba