Members of political parties from Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar came together at Taj Tashi Hotel in Thimphu yesterday to share experiences and achievements of their respective democracy.

Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the director of the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD), said every country, including the UK and the USA, is today facing political crisis and that dialogues are the key to solving the problems.

The director said political parties will disagree but should not tear the country apart. “It’s important for political parties to keep talking,” he said, adding that democracy around the world is in a crisis.

The day-long seminar titled “Achievements and Strengths of Democracy” was organised by Bhutan Democracy Dialogue in collaboration with the Election Commission of Bhutan.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) secretary general, Ugyen Dorji, who briefed the foreign delegates on Bhutan’s democratic set-up, said democracy in Bhutan was decreed by His Majesty The Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. “The country was stunned when His Majesty announced that Bhutan would be transformed into a democracy during the National Day celebrations in 2005 in Trashiyangtse,” he said.

He said elections in Bhutan are free and fair due to the presence of an independent election body and funds from the state for election expenses for political parties.

A foreign participant asked how minority rights were protected in Bhutan. Ugyen Dorji said that legal provisions that mandate a party to have members from all dzongkhags and regions to some extent ensure that people from all regions are included in the democratic process. “We don’t have a minority group as such in Bhutan,” he said.

The country’s laws do not allow formation of a political party based on ethnicity and region.

Ugyen Dorji explained that only two parties that make it through the primaries will get the opportunity to represent the people in Parliament. He said all Members of Parliament are elected through the first-past-the-post voting system and that Bhutan does not have proportional representation.

“This is perhaps one of the drawbacks of our democracy,” Ugyen Dorji said. He added that the country would look into the matter in future, if need be.

A member of the Nepalese delegation, Dina Nath Sharma, said that when political parties in his country have disputes over issues, they do come to a negotiating table for national interests. He said there are a number of political and ethnic groups opposing Nepal’s Constitution and that the government is committed to moving forward by addressing their concerns.

“Cooperation and consensus is the guiding principle of Nepal’s democracy,” he said. “Among disagreements, we find issues of common interests,” he added.

A delegate from Myanmar said democratic changes are gaining momentum in his country although there are armed struggles by some ethnic groups in the country. “Peace is essential for democracy,” he said.

Participants said democracies with a large number of minority and ethnic groups face bigger challenges.

MB Subba