It is dirty, divisive, and all about money.

Two rounds of parliamentary elections and almost a decade into Bhutan’s transition to democracy, we have begun to associate politics and the processes of democracy as dirty, divisive , and about money.

What does such a perception tell us about the state of democracy in Bhutan today? Why do we perceive politics as corrosive that it has almost become a norm to develop repugnance towards politicians? How do we assess the democratic-ness of democracy?

As we gear up for another round of parliamentary elections, perhaps its time we started discussing how the people, who are at the center of this process, feel about the country’s democratic progress. While celebrating the national voter’s day yesterday, the Election Commission of Bhutan urged each voter to participate in the upcoming elections. The day’s theme was ‘Mission 2018: Participation by all in the 3rd parliamentary elections.”

Bhutan made the call a decade ago. It was heard and we hope it will be heard again. But in doing so, we need to ensure that our call to the newly registered youth voters doesn’t end after they cast their votes. Their participation in the democratic process begins with their vote. Yet, we see our youth, the country’s future being left behind as the country progresses towards the future.  How would these youth assess the state of democracy in Bhutan?

The country also celebrated the international democracy day. Among representatives from political parties, the parliament, civil society organisations, youth, media , and other communities, a call was made to keep the nation’s interest before party interests. Representatives from political parties urged the need to avoid mudslinging, hate speech and negative campaigning. The Bhutan Democracy Dialogue, a multiparty association recently shared that it aspires to prevent the nation from being divided along the party lines.

Such aspirations give hope to the people. It may, however, be a challenge to allay the anxiety that people were put through in the past. We may have constructed a norm of winning being the sole goal where partisan politics comfort our fears but undermine cooperation and another perspective.

If our people believe that divisive politics works, then it would take more than a call to resist the temptation of indulging in means that may be dirty but ones which are tolerated in the game of politics. With political parties calling for some morality, we hope that the people would be able to recognise the dynamics and enticements that politics bring forth.

Democracy is a process. We learn and unlearn. Institutions and parties call on the people to participate in the democratic process. But the people are aware that they have the power to discern the values claimed by the parties. It is the people who decide if the parties’ values fit in to the nation’s shared vision of democracy. In this process, the people are the pulse. It’s their assessment of democracy that matters. It’s their call.