The National Assembly members will bow out on August 1, ending their five-year term as members of Parliament.
With members shedding their symbols of powers – the sword and the scarf, the lower house’s dissolution will mark a new beginning for the country’s democratic process. The political field levels when the executive hands over the reign of governance to the interim government. His Majesty will appoint the interim government, which will enable the election commission to conduct free and fair elections.
As with any change, there is excitement, hope, anxiety and speculation. Mixed in these emotions, we sense distrust growing in the society – among neighbours, communities and institutions. Ministers are anxious of media reports on unfulfilled pledges. Be it the closing of a school or the problems farmers face in auctioning their potatoes, media reports are increasingly viewed through political lens. Allegations of the media being too critical of one party or the other and of not reporting enough have begun. Work of constitutional institutions are scrutinised for potential political links. People have started to not invite senior public officials- turned politicians for gatherings. With elections nearing and given the confrontational nature of politics, such reactions are expected.
The last interim government, to keep the civil service apolitical, had issued an order advising civil servants to not plan travel within the country during the election process. Should it be unavoidable, an approval of the interim government should be sought. Whether the new interim government would issue similar advisory is yet to be seen but in a digital age, implementing such orders would not be without challenges.
In the political scene, all four parties have now confirmed their candidates and are brushing up their manifestos. Thousands of supporters are showing up at party conventions. Slogans are announced and parties claim they are prepared for the third round of parliamentary elections.
Are the people prepared? Are voters well informed of their rights? As Bhutan completes a decade of democratic governance, Bhutanese must reflect on how the Bhutanese society has changed. What have we learnt? What can we unlearn? Have the election commission, the politicians and the media done enough to inform the people of the democratic process the country is embarking on?
Some feel that after two rounds of elections, people are well informed. They may not be familiar with all the candidates or the parties and the ideologies, but they know that they can bring about a change. For whatever reasons they may vote, the people know that they have the power to change.