The government had promised to take them all on board

MB Subba

The government came to power with the promise to take all the political parties on board, including those outside of the Parliament, by involving them in discussions and dialogue.

However, political parties outside of the Parliament are struggling to find a platform to participate in discussions on issues of national importance. It has also been a challenge to stay relevant after getting eliminated from the primary round of National Assembly elections.

The government says that it has been open to ideas from all political parties and that it has been more inclusive than the past governments.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said: “We give all the parties invitations to attend official functions. This was not there before.”

He said that the possibility of extending duty free service to party presidents was being discussed. 

General secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Phurba, said that the ruling party would involve all the political parties in discussions whenever possible. He said that the government was supportive of the views of all the political parties on common issues facing the nation.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party’s (BKP) general secretary, Dawa Rinchen, said that the 14th Round Table Meeting held in March was the only meeting the parties outside of the Parliament had attended with the government.

According him, the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) was supposed to involve all political parties in planning activities. 

He said that meetings with all political parties involving the government would help parties outside of the Parliament to have their say on issues.

“We haven’t attended any meeting, neither with government nor with the GNHC,” he said.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) spokesperson, Dorji Wangdi, said that the government had promised to take all parties on board but did not live up to its words.

“As far as I know, I heard they invited the Opposition Leader (OL) to join one of the ‘Meet the Press’ sessions, which OL thought was inappropriate and he did not attend,” he said.

As part of its commitment to take all the political parties onboard, the government at a Meet the Press in March had said that it was planning biannual all-party meetings to make governance inclusive. 

It was announced that the first of such meetings would be held soon. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss common issues. 

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) member and former minister, Lekey Dorji, said there was no such meeting held.

Currently, Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD) is the only platform where all political parties get the opportunity to meet to discuss the issues of national importance.

The plan was to keep all political parties informed on issues.

There are four registered political parties, two of which are outside of the Parliament: People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP).

Members of political parties say that such meetings with the government would not only enable the political parties outside of the Parliament to push their ideas but also help create understanding between the government and other political parties.

The government has said that it would take on board that all parties would be involved in the drafting of the “Vision 2045”.  The government in its manifesto has pledged to make Bhutan self-reliant and a thriving developed country by 2045.

Political parties say that meetings of all political parties involving the government would be a good platform. However, some members of political parties caution that such meetings should not be used to impose the government’s ideas.

The government had said that the all-party meetings would be another platform for all political parties besides BDD. 

The BDD was established with an aim to provide a platform to  political parties to engage in dialogue, build cooperation and partnership in the interest of “Bhutan First”.

However, the representation in BDD meetings from the ruling party’s side has been poor and the trend continues.

The capacity building workshop organised by BDD and the Election Commission of Bhutan in Paro in October was the last time when all parties gathered together on the same platform. 

Representation from the ruling party was poor, participants say.

“The capacity building workshop was useful but participants from DNT were mostly party members from villages who did not understand the discussion” a participant said.