Of the 20, three parties have together declared, only one is a woman
Save for Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP), no other party has declared a woman candidate to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections to date.
Three parties – People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and BKP – have officially started announcing candidates and have declared 20 to date.
Dasho Neten Zangmo from Dewathang-Gomdar constituency of Samdrupjongkhar is the only woman candidate declared. She is the president of BKP, which has announced about 10 candidates, the highest among the three parties as yet.
Party officials indicate that they are not looking forward to fielding many women candidates as in the past elections.
General secretary of PDP, Sonam Jatso, said that despite trying, it was difficult to get women candidates.
“We have officially declared three new candidates, all men. In the remaining undeclared constituencies, there are chances that we may have one or two woman candidates,” he said.
The general secretary added that the party’s vice president and works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden, was going all out to find good woman candidates.
“She always talks about the need to have more woman candidates. But the reality is, it’s really hard.”
From a total of 10 women candidates who contested the 2008 general elections, four were elected. The number of women candidates in the 2013 general election increased by one, but the number of women to be elected reduced by as many.
The number of members reached four with the election of DPT’s Dechen Zangmo from Nanong-Shumar constituency of Pemagatshel in a by-election in November 2013.
DPT’s general secretary Ugyen Dorji said that although his party did not have new women candidates, the former women candidates would be retained if they did not withdrew voluntarily. The party fielded five women candidates in 2013.
“We haven’t come across any willing women candidates although we have approached a few,” Ugyen Dorji said. “It’s difficult to get women candidates.”
His party, Ugyen Dorji said, does not have a discriminatory policy against women. “Of course, we give due importance and consideration to the winnability of the candidate, be they male or female,” he added.
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has not revealed any candidates officially. However, party sources say the party does not have many women candidates.
The party’s general secretary, Tenzin Lekhphel said that DNT would confirm its candidates at the party convention to be held soon. “About 40 percent of our 2,500 members are women. We are deciding how many women should be allotted tickets,” he said, adding that the party would give due respect to their issues.
Past trends indicate that women candidates’ chances of wining on party tickets are higher when compared to apolitical candidates as people generally vote on party lines.
Three from a total of six women candidates from PDP won in the 2013 general election. However, no women were elected to the National Council although six contested nationwide.
This suggests that political parties can play an important role in increasing women representation in politics.
Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) president Lily Wangchuk said social barriers make it extremely difficult to get women candidates although they are no less capable.
She said parties could play a key role in increasing women representation in parliament, and more effectively in the National Assembly by nominating more women candidates. “If parties can encourage women participation, we can really be a representative democracy,” she said.
According to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), there were 205,247 women voters against 196,902 male voters last year.
In 2013, DCT fielded 15 women candidates, the highest among all participating parties. The party has not announced any candidates for the upcoming elections as of now.
In an email interview, ECB said that as an election management body, it is facilitating both women and men to participate meaningfully in elections. It stated that it is undertaking efforts to improve women participation in elections.
Today, women comprise 8.51 percent of the 47-member National Assembly against 91.48 percent men.
The number of women members in the National Council reduced from 20 percent in the first parliament to eight in the second including the eminent members. None of the six women who contested got elected to the upper house in the second parliament.
Of the 128 aspiring national councilors who registered with ECB for the upcoming national Council elections, only seven are women.
However, parties say that although there are not many candidates, they have appointed several women as coordinators at the local and dzongkhag levels.
The PDP general secretary said that his party has for the first time appointed a woman as its dzongkhag coordinator in Mongar. PDP, he also said, has several women gewog coordinators across the country.
Tenzin Lekhphel also said that his party has many women as gewog and dzongkhag coordinators.
A study carried out by ECB in 2014 after the second parliamentary elections found that political parties were not keen on promoting gender equality. However, the report also said gender was not an issue among voters in terms of candidate choice and people look for credible, competent, qualified and good candidates.
The lack of women participation in elective offices, observers say, means women have little or no say in determining national priorities and shaping national agendas. Bhutan ranks fifth in the SAARC region in terms of women participation in the parliament.
The government had pledged to introduce a 20 percent quota for women in all elected offices. The issue was dropped following consultative meetings with stakeholders such as the National Commission for Women and Children who according to the government said women themselves were not in favour of reservations.
BKP did not comment on the issue.