It is late, but that’s better than never. An association like the recently launched Bhutan Democracy Dialogue was one that was missing in our journey to making Bhutan a strong and unique democracy.
The body is a multi party association, which knows well what transpires before, during and after an election. Such a body is crucial in allowing them to work together for the cause of democracy, even if they represent different political parties with different ideas.
What is important is that the political parties owe the voters an important element in making democracy successful- trust. The last two general elections have left a bad taste and bitter experience in the minds of the voters. The political parties need to rebuild the trust.
Elections in any democracy are never without controversy. It is worse in some places, where fights break out and mobs come out on the streets, damaging public property and even attacking members. Fortunately we have not reached that level, but the issue is deserving of the fullest attention and intervention.
Like the association’s president said, the country had experienced disharmony, undermining the strong sense of solidarity we were proud of under the Kings. It may be not so much about the party leaders, but the so-called party workers have done enough damage in the last many years.
In the excitement of elections, over zealous party workers sow the seed of discord in communities and even families. That’s why in the aftermath of the elections, we have neighbours not talking to each other, or labelling villages with political parties. This had led to the feeling that, among average Bhutanese, democracy was not beyond supporting a party, or joining their relatives or denouncing the other, without even understanding why they join.
A more damaging problem is when the populace is signed up en masse as party members. By doing so, those, who are participating in the democratic process, deprive the people of the freedom of choice. This is a big irony.
To start the dialogue, the association could start with limiting the so-called part members and party workers. This would allow our citizens to exercise their rights without influence.
Voter education drive could substitute the membership drive, as it is only with understanding that people will make the right choice. More than a decade after we first went to the polls, we are still dealing with the same problems. This indicates that the voters need more education.
People matter in the process of democratisation. At a time when we can see around how democracy can go wrong, it is good to pause and look at how we are doing to make the electorate responsible voters, and not bound to party workers, without the sense of understanding the beauty of democracy.
The next round of general elections is three years away. This gives us good time to engage in dialogues and discourse in ensuring a different experience in 2018 and beyond.