With the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) denying registration to Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa, there is only Druk Gaki Tshogpa putting its effort to register with the commission.

Kuenphen Tshogpa tried to revamp the party and come up with a different name but to no avail. The group led by a former civil servant, Jigme Dukpa, could not find a person to lead the party.

He said that it was a daunting task to form a political party in Bhutan. He says that he would prepare for 2023 elections although he was not successful this time.

On the other hand, third parties feel that there is no need for more parties in the young democracy with a small population.

Three new parties – Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party, Druk Nuyamrup Tshogpa and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa – were formed in 2013.

DCT president Lily Wangchuk said that having a few strong parties would be better for Bhutan rather than growing number of political parties during each election. “While democracy is all about diversity and more choices, I also believe a large number of political parties would mean greater fragmentation of the society into smaller groups which may not be desirable for our country in the long run,” she said.

She said that the visions of all the parties are actually similar and only their approaches were different. “With greater understanding of each other, I believe eventually we could settle down at fewer, dynamic political groups.”

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party vice president, Sonam Tobgay, in an earlier interview said that although variety is the spice of life, forming a party was a serious business that should not be taken for granted. “BKP wishes well to all aspiring political parties in the making.”

He said that ideally, three political parties would do well to Bhutanese democracy with two in the parliament and the third one outside to avoid complacency between the ruling and the opposition.

However, the promoter of Druk Gaki Tshogpa, Cheku Dukpa, said that it was stupid to think that more parties are not needed. He argues that new parties are needed to provide a better government.

He said that the people who feel that the existing parties are enough do not want good choice. “They don’t want competition although people deserve choices.”

Cheku Dukpa said that Druk Gaki Tshogpa, given a chance would change the face of the country in one year under his leadership. “I cannot find a better person than myself to be our country’s prime minister.”

He claims that he has about 500 members as of today. The party in the making is planning to hold its convention by the end of this month after which it will file for registration.

Claiming that he is making careful efforts, he said he is confident that his party would be registered, unlike Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa.

One of the grounds for the disqualification of Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa ECB said was the lack of tentative candidates for most of the constituencies. Cheku Dukpa claimed that he is confident that his party would be registered even without all candidates.

“We will produce about 20 candidates during the registration,” he said. There are 47 constituencies. “We are not afraid of disqualification. ECB cannot exercise powers outside the electoral laws.”

He said that he is aware of the requirement for registration. “We have learned lessons from the disqualification of Kuenphen Tshogpa.”

The DCT president said that since Bhutan is a bi-party democracy, it can enjoy a stable government and provide continuity to policies with greater responsibility and accountability. “However, there are also negative aspects associated with our system since it can lead to a dictatorship of the cabinet, the dictatorship of the majority party that cares little for the opposition or views of other parties because it enjoys a majority in the Parliament.”

The country’s democracy, she said, also offers limited choices for voters during general elections, divides the nation into two irreconcilable camps, and all shades of opinion and voices are not represented in the legislature when other political parties lose out in primary elections.

She said that it also leads to the lowered prestige of the legislature since the Prime Minister will always have a special influence over the Parliament as the leader of the house by virtue of his or her position as the leader of the majority party. “I hope in the long run we can consider a system that is more suited to our context and needs.”

Lily Wangchuk said that most Bhutanese are in politics to serve the King, country and people. “Standing up for others and our beliefs takes a lot of courage, hard work and at times sacrifice. Yet, we continue to be perceived negatively which can be very discouraging.”

She is not happy with the country’s interpretation of the term ‘apolitical’. She said that it has not only limited parties’ membership base but has also their interaction with civil society organisations and civil servants.

She said that the civil service rules 2012 and the rules related to the cooling period and office of profit have discouraged many potential, competent candidates from embracing politics.

The DCT president said the current electoral laws give an edge to the established parties in terms of reaching out to the people. “Voting from a place of registration has not only affected voter turnout but also allowed well-established parties to influence voting decisions by sponsoring their trips, which is difficult to monitor.”

MB Subba