With all parties prepped to hit the campaign trail, the upcoming elections are expected to be an interesting episode in the country’s democratic process.
It is projected to be a closely contested election with two parties having served their terms in parliament and the other two not yet being given the mandate to govern. The stakes are high for all the political forces concerned and the political parties have put together a formidable team from all walks of life to represent the people.
But beneath the veneer of enthusiasm, which is both commendable and palpable, we sense anxiety and apprehension. Two rounds of parliamentary elections and a decade into Bhutan’s transition to democracy, we have agreed to associate politics and the processes of democracy, especially, elections as dirty, divisive and all about money.
If politicians complained of people avoiding them in the past, today they lament of the fear that has numbed the electorate, including the bureaucracy. We see new rules being imposed to ensure free and fair elections, to level the playing field, rhetoric that appear to remain more on paper. While complaints are made of these rules being too restrictive and limiting the space for political discourse, the playing field gets transformed into a paying field. If we are to go by the rumours of money being spent during elections, then Bhutan is only poor during non-election period, when it has to implement the planned activities.
In a society where rumours and gossips are powerful in shaping public opinion, such developments and even rumorus of such practices occurring are concerning. After words on the reliability of electronic voting machines and postal ballot system spread, the election commission had to step in to assure the people that the voting machinery are secure and cannot be tampered with. The commission must step in more to dispel or investigate issues that shake public confidence in the electoral process.
As we enter another round of parliamentary elections and competition heats up, its time we reflect on how the people, who are at the center of this process, feel about the country’s democratic progress. It is time the people reflect on what such a perception of politics and politicians tell us about the state of democracy in Bhutan. Why do we continue to perceive politics as corrosive that it has become a norm to develop repugnance towards politicians? What does it mean for the country when people ask why a particular party or a politician should be trusted? What does it tell of the media, when political parties are convinced that the media, touted as the fourth estate have lost all sense of objectivity and used to suit whichever party’s interests? Are we happy with our electoral processes, the theatrics and the spectacle? Is this the narrative of Bhutan’s decade old democracy?
These are the questions Bhutanese need to ask themselves as they look to the third round of elections. As political parties call for some morality, the people must not forget that elections are about them, not political parties. They must recognise the dynamics and enticements that politics bring forth. It’s their assessment of democracy that matters. It’s their call.