Graduates are optimistic 

Tshering Palden

Will Bhutan experience a free and fair election in 2008?

The 2007 graduates believe it would, provided Bhutanese, many of whom are illiterate and live in rural areas, were adequately educated on democracy, people’s fundamental right of franchise, and the significance of electing the right leader.

This was in essence the outcome of a symposium held recently during the National Graduates Orientation Program involving, other than graduates, election commission officials and members of the two registered political parties.

Most were optimistic because, they pointed out, the institutions critical to help make the 2008 election “free and fair” were firmly in place, chiefly the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

But while they felt ECB was doing a commendable job given its infancy, some graduates felt ECB could do more.

They expressed concerns about media reports and on their own information, of election malpractices employed by party workers in remote places where people are largely ignorant. Gullible villagers were being influenced through false promises and a show of affluence, they said. Having institutions and systems in place was of little use if Bhutanese could not vote on the basis of informed decisions.

“If the vote is exchanged for a meal or seduced through lies and robbed by threats, the whole purpose will be defeated,” said a commerce graduate, Tashi Tshering.

The graduates stressed the importance of educating the rural voter base. “People still have difficulty understanding the various terminologies used by ECB,” a presenter at the symposium pointed out. “It’s worrying to hear comments like ‘I will vote because it is mandatory’ or ‘I will vote for my cousin’ and even, ‘I will vote so that my land is not taken away.”

Some suggested that ECB could conduct education and awareness campaigns in local dialects for clarity and better understanding. They appealed to ECB to monitor the political parties under strict discipline.

The ECB officials informed the gathering that ECB was doing its best. “We have followed media reports and investigations are underway.”

Members of the two political parties said that the goal was to have a successful and vibrant democracy. One said that the two political parties were not enemies. “Democracy is too precious, therefore civility be- tween the parties should continue for a successful democracy.”

The bottom line from the symposium was that people should not be made to feel as though they were voting for a People’s Democratic Party or a Druk Phuensum Tshogpa government, but that they were voting for the government of the people of Bhutan.