With the third parliamentary elections months away, members of political parties claim they would refrain from resorting to corrupt practices and mudslinging to achieve their political goal.

Representatives from political parties shared this during a panel discussion organised by Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD), a platform for political parties to interact among themselves.

Chairman of BDD, Sonam Jatso, said the conference was held to forge understanding among political parties and seek their commitment in nurturing the young democracy. “Elections usually divide people, which is not good for a country of small population. We need to find a middle path,” he said.

Sonam Jatso, who is also the general secretary of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said that his party would not compromise on national interests such as security and foreign policy.  “We first listen to the King and do things according to his vision,” he said.

Nominating the “right candidates with right qualities” and making pledges that would not affect national interest, he said, would be some of the ways of putting national interests before party interests during a campaign.

He said that although competition among political parties was natural, they needed to come together and heal the wounds after the election. “Democracy can be messy, but we have the rarest opportunity to make it exemplary in the world under the leadership of His Majesty,” he said.

He said that his party would work as “Bhutanese first” and that BDD wanted to promote this concept. “The way our democracy came to Bhutan makes it a unique. However, its success will depend on the conduct of political parties,” he said.

A member of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP), Karma Loday, said political parties should not resort to corrupt practices to win. “One must win in a political battle but there must be means and ways,” he said.

One of his gravest concerns, he said, was the lack of willingness from people to participate in politics.

Another member of BKP, Pirthiman Pradhan, said that “fake news” that circulate on social media should be regulated. He said ECB needed to do more on the voter education front.

BKP president Dasho Neten Zangmo said political parties needed to meet and discuss issues and differences more frequently. “We should not be bent on winning the election by hook or crook,” she said.

Vice president of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), S B Ghallay, said economic growth should be inclusive and that the aim of political parties should be to uplift the life of the poor. “The nation can move forward only when people are empowered,” he said.

He said that there were still some people who lived like animals. “Democracy can prosper only when civil rights are protected and citizens can participate in the decision making process,” he said.

On a different note, he observed that Druk Pheunsum Tshogpa (DPT) and PDP were formed by “rich and big people”.

General secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Tenzin Lekphel, stressed on the need to nurture Bhutanese democracy. “Our democracy is still a toddler. It’s not even a teenager,” he said. “Let’s have a healthy competition for votes without dividing the country along party lines and based on religion or regions,” he said.

DNT member Ugyen Tenzin said it was important that right information reached the people and that rumours and circulation of fake news have to be stopped.  He said political corruption was one of the challenges in Bhutan.

MP Novin Darlami of PDP said his party always conducted responsibly under the leadership of Prime Minister and party president Tshering Tobgay. The party, he said, had done a good job in solving the economic problems despite challenges.

Poverty, he said, was recognised as a major challenge and that the government was working towards uplifting the lives of the poor. “Democracy in our context means providing service to the people. We will conduct our election campaign responsibly,” Novin Darlami said.

DPT representative MP Rinzin Jamtsho said democracy was all about the rule of law. Highlighting the role of his party in Bhutanese democracy, he said DPT has produced 60 MPs in two elections and that it was the strongest party today.

However, he added, “We are saying our democracy is unique. But we have to think whether it is really unique.”

Secretary of Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), Dawa Tenzin, said BDD is a platform for political parties to achieve major democratic culture and deepen democracy in the country. He said ECB was ready for 2018 election and that voter education programmes were being held in dzongkhags.

ECB, the secretary said, was making efforts to encourage voter turnout by encouraging youth, the disabled and sick. According to him, only 20 percent of the youth voted in the 2016 local government election. “We are making youth the main target,” he said.

He also urged political parties to conduct themselves more responsibly both during and after the election period.

MB Subba