Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD) will try and prevent the nation from being divided along party lines by ensuring that parties place national interests before individual party interests.

BDD is an initiative of all registered parties to promote and strengthen Bhutanese democracy as “Bhutanese first”.

People’s Democratic Party’s general secretary, Sonam Jatso, was elected as BDD’s new chair at a recently held meeting. In its effort to prevent party interests from overriding national interests, the newly elected chairman said BDD’s steering committee would ensure that parties place matters of national interest before party interests.

“Democracy is not a perfect system; it could get really messy. It’s sometimes discouraging when we look at the ugly conduct of some democracies in different parts of the world,” Sonam Jatso said.

However, he said, BDD can play an important role in making Bhutanese democracy one of the finest in the world.

“The secret of Bhutan’s success has always been in doing things differently in our own way and on our own terms. We are a small nation with a unique culture and strong values,” Sonam Jatso said.

He said that Bhutan should adopt its own homegrown system of governance in line with the provisions of the Constitution. BDD, he said, could play a role in shaping a democracy that truly benefits the nation.

Sonam Jatso said BDD would also play an active role in healing and bringing the people and nation together after elections.

“In order to elect a people’s government, competition during elections is inevitable. But after the elections, we must all come together as one nation.”

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s general secretary, Ugyen Dorji, said that one of BDD’s roles was to keep the country united despite the existence of many parties. “BDD helps parties to work as Bhutanese first. Its role is also to make democracy vibrant.”

Among other activities, BDD plans to organise an all-party conference involving top leaders of political parties, election officials, parliamentarians, NGOs and the media next month.

One of the objectives of the conference is to establish a common understanding among political parties to keep certain matters like foreign policy, national security and national disasters as untouchables. That would mean that no party would make such matters issues during the election campaign.

“In other democracies too, nationally sensitive matters are untouchables. But we sometimes forget and cross the line. It’s to remind ourselves before the election,” Sonam Jatso said.

Tenzin Lekphel, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s general secretary, said that the conference would discuss the issues facing political parties. He said parties agree that national interests are more important than party interests.

BDD also plans to provide, through ECB, training for grassroots party coordinators on election rules. BDD hopes the initiatives will create awareness on the electoral process among the electorate and encourage voter turnout in 2018 elections.

During its first two years, BDD established itself as an important platform for all political parties to come together and work together to strengthen democracy; and to discuss and resolve common issues and concerns. “Our focus till now has been on institutional strengthening of political parties through the conduct of trainings, workshops, seminars and study tours,” Sonam Jatso said.

One of the aims of BDD is also to build a positive image of politicians and political parties, and to make sure that democracy works within the country’s own unique culture, way of life and values.

However, Sonam Jatso said that by the end of the year or early next year BDD would enter “a quiet phase” because political parties and ECB would get busy with elections.

“But after the elections, BDD can play a critical role in bringing our nation, our people and political parties together. We are a small nation, and we cannot let politics and elections divide us,” Sonam Jatso said.

MB Subba