Politics: Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that the North Thimphu by-election came as a shock on account of the very low voter turnout.

He said that, however, upon closer scrutiny, it was not a landslide victory as claimed since only 42 percent of the registered voters decided the outcome. (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, who is also the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) president, said the party respects the outcome.

PDP won the North Thimphu by-election on November 4 by securing 2,032 votes against DPT’s 660. The constituency was traditionally considered a DPT stronghold.

“It was obvious that we were up against several disadvantages right from the start. We knew that there would be a significant backlash from the voters and that they would blame our former MP, Kinga Tshering, for resigning on personal grounds,” he said.

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said PDP played this card [Kinga Tshering’s resignation] extensively and even went to the extent of dragging our former MP and foreign minister Ugyen Tshering’s name. He added that members of the PDP leadership inappropriately managed to influence DPT’s first candidate to withdraw from contesting.

“They did so by discrediting our Party and creating doubts, which may have also influenced the voters. This gave a head start of more than a month for the PDP to campaign and prepare for the by-election. Thirdly, as the ruling government, they have all the resources and political clout to influence the voters,” said (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho.

The election loss in North Thimphu came at a time when the country is edging towards parliamentary elections in 2018. Many think the by-election result could be indicative of things to come.

However, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said the election result is by no means indicative of what lies in store for either party in the 2018 parliamentary elections. “In fact, the very low voter turnout is indicative of the failure of both parties in attracting voters, which do not auger well for a vibrant democracy.”

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that the PDP’s win will test the government’s ability to deliver so many “unrealistic pledges”, such as halving helicopter hire charges for the people of Soe, Lingzhi and Naro gewogs and construction of several bridges, in this particular constituency. “When they have hardly added anything in the last three years to what the DPT government has done in the past, is there any reason to believe that these promises can be fulfilled?”

There is just one financial year left for the government. (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said it is unrealistic to believe that they would either have the intent, the time or the resources to fulfill these pledges. “Moreover, by 2018, people will realise that the long-term interests of the nation such as pursuing GNH and achieving self-reliance and strengthening sovereignty are more important than short-term, feel-good schemes and free handouts.”

He said the fulfillment of their pledges, many of which are “highly irresponsible, unrealistic and unsustainable”, would also determine peoples’ choice.

DPT is a principled party and has always abided by its ideology of “equity and justice” and did not diverge from it just to win elections, said (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho. “Yes, we have challenges ahead and issues to be addressed but we are confident that our support base is stronger than ever and that the public at large know that ours is a party that is truly dedicated to the service of the Tsawa-Sum, and places the interests of our nation above all else.”

He added that whether or not the election was fair is for the people to judge. “We respect the outcome of the election and have no intention whatsoever to contest it. We have also stood for honoring the verdict of the people and will not deviate from that position.”

However, DPT will seek clarifications from the Election Commission of Bhutan on some electoral procedures so that there will be no ambiguity in the future for DPT or the other parties which would also enhance voter turnout and strengthen democracy, said (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho.

The party’s membership has dwindled and is the lowest of all the parties. He said its membership numbers have gone down because many of its supporters and leaders decided to contest in the last local government elections.

The party is now in the process of taking stock of the situation and will initiate its membership drive at an appropriate time. “In any case, we have seen from past records that the number of members is not an accurate indicator of a party’s support base,” said (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho.

Although the party is facing some criticism on social media, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said there are overwhelming support, goodwill and positive comments on the party. “We are deeply grateful. Of course, it is only natural that there are few negative comments, which is expected in a democracy.”

He added there are only  a few people with entrenched, vested interests in defaming and discrediting the party and making wild and vicious allegations. “However, we are not disturbed by such comments as the whole nation knows that their allegations are baseless.”

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said the result of this by-election has in no way deterred the party from continuing its role as a responsible and principled party in the service of the nation. “We thank our supporters for their confidence and request them to continue supporting us. In keeping with our principles and ideology, we will continue to work towards promoting equity and justice and ensure that their children and grandchildren will inherit a country, which is secure, sovereign and prosperous.”

MB Subba