Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) president Pema Gyamtsho’s arguments at the first presidential debate revolved around the party’s vision of self-reliance by 2025 and vouched on its experience both as the ruling party and as opposition.
The DPT president said that the Asian Development Bank rated Bhutan as the fastest growing economy in Asia with an average GDP growth rate of 8.7 percent in the five years of the DPT government. The Rupee problem of 2013, he said, was inevitable because of the housing boom and implementation of large projects including the Punatshangchu and Dagachu hydroelectric projects.
“There are over 7,000 Boleros in rural Bhutan because of the roads our government constructed. Our roads have improved services in various sectors such as communication,” he said, in response to PDP president’s claims of having built roads.
The DPT government, he said, reduced poverty from 24 percent to 12 percent there by realising the ideology of equity and justice. He promised that his party would bring down poverty below four percent if it forms the government.
The country could not realise “Vision 2020” because of the last government’s failure to complete the ongoing hydropower projects and start new ones.
If the government commissions the ongoing hydropower projects within three years and starts three new projects, the country’s income would double. According to the DPT president, about Nu 227 billion would have been generated as of today from hydropower projects if the government had completed them as per the plan.
Pema Gyamtsho said that the agriculture and tourism sectors should be developed further through policy review. He also said that policies have to be reviewed to equally distribute the benefits of the mining industry.
He refuted the claims of the PDP president that decentralisation had taken roots, saying that just giving the money and Boleros would not empower local governments. “The local government should be given power to make decisions. Civil servants are not willing to speak at a meeting called by the opposition party because of obvious fears from the government,” he said.
The media freedom, he said had also deteriorated during the PDP government’s tenure. The PDP president replied that people would have been afraid of the DPT president himself if people feared to speak at a meeting called by the latter.
The per capita income in Bhutan increased from USD 300 in the 1970s to over USD 2,000 today. This, he said, was an indication of the gap between rich and poor being narrowed.
The DPT president urged all to uphold the electoral laws for a free and fair election. He urged the parties to refrain from indulging in spreading rumours about rival parties saying that such moves would affect communal harmony.
Parties, he said, should not make promises just for electoral gains. “We cannot achieve self-reliance if we go on promising what people themselves can afford and to waive off in taxes what they can pay. Our sovereignty will be affected if we do not achieve self-sufficiency,” he said.
While the DNT president argued that it was time for a new party to form the government, Pema Gyamtsho said that a government was not a place for employment and laboratory for people to experiment for the inexperienced.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leave it to the electorate to judge how it did as the government.
At the party presidents’ debate yesterday, the PDP president Tshering Tobgay said people are enjoying unprecedented socioeconomic development, peace, prosperity, and unity.
If that is the assessment of the people today, he said the party deserves continuity. Anti-incumbency, he said, was necessary if the government failed its people.
He said that good parties that served the people well should take firm roots. The day it forgets that, he said people have the power to root it out.
Contrary to what the two new parties claimed, he said democracy had taken roots and that the success of it was one of the best examples in world.
If money power and fear is the concern among the political parties, the president of PDP said Bhutanese electorate were wise enough to understand the value of secret ballot.
“Don’t be concerned. I trust every Bhutanese and they won’t be mistaken as to which party and candidate would benefit them,” Tshering Tobgay said.
“The ideology of Wangtse Chirphel has fostered GNH and served the people, especially in the gewog well,” he said. This is why, in 2013, people believed in PDP’s ideology and consequently the 11th Plan was a big success.”
Wangtse Chirphel, he said, empowered the people at the local government with more authority, responsibility and resources. While other parties questioned the capacity of local government, Tshering Tobgay said PDP’s ideology has resulted in achieving GNH. “Never ever has our people enjoyed more prosperity and peace,” he said, adding that divisiveness and corruption was never spotted during their tenure.
Responding to the DPT president who said wangtse chirphel jeopardised the apolitical nature of civil servants by instilling fear, he said that the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) hold them accountable.
Tshering Tobgay said the gewog development grant of Nu 2M resulted in more that 7,000 projects; the REDCl sanctioned more than to 3,700 loans, central schools, 100 units of free electricity and rural business tax waiver not only brought about equity but also indicated that the capacity of local government was budding.
This is why, he said, the 12th Plan would empower local government more with increase of GDG to Nu5M and project worth Nu 200M in every gewog would be initiated. “I have visited 205 gewogs and visited every dzongkhag five times to consult with the people,” he said.
“Central schools have benefitted the poor, we are going to build 200 more and equity will be ensured,” he said, adding that freebies were the least that government could provide to bring about equity.
“We are fully aware of what the 12th Plan has in store, but this is not enough to ensure sustainability and that is why PDP has gone beyond what is there in the Plan,” he said.
On the media being suppressed, he said the PDP government never impeded both print and broadcast media from pursuing their stories. “But I heard that Dawa (former BBS journalist and DNT candidate) was crying and conveying to people that he was fired by the government,” he said. “But upon my inquiry with the managing director BBS, he left the company on his own will.”
Change to narrow the gap
“If people fail to change the political party, or the government in 2018, come 2023 elections and all political parties will be contending for the role of opposition, because the government, if it is the same party elected time and again, would have grown roots to be changed and it would be at the cost of bloodshed in the end, that change would come,” Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s president Lotay Tshering said at the first party presidents’ debate yesterday.
This was in response to People’s Democratic Party’s president’s statement on the importance of voting for the best party, not for a new party or changing the government.
Lotay Tshering said the party is new, not the people working for the party. He said no political party is bad as all of them mean well for the people and the country. It is important that people vote for the strongest and the best party.
“This year, we hope and pray that our people vote for one such party, for should that not prevail, people will find themselves left wanting of a choice that they are presented with today,” he said.
Lotay Tshering said it would be difficult to replace a party through election in future if a political party takes root. “If we did not change the government in 2013 then today we would be contesting for the opposition.”
The DNT president said the party’s ideology and vision is an outcome of the party’s consultations with people over the last five years.
While the DNT party president acknowledged the developments the country witnessed during the tenure of the last two governments, he said disparity in haves and have-nots have been widening and that is most visible in availing the health services. “This is why, for 2018, DNT’s guiding principle is to narrow the gap between haves and have-nots.”
Disparity in access to health facilities is the overriding problem that affects progress in all other sectors, be it economy or employment. Lotay Tshering said this is why DNT has health as their top priority.
He said some people in rural areas sell their cattle to pay for their expenses to avail health services. “This is a disparity. Just by looking at the patient’s report and disease, it can be easily said if the patient is from rural area or from an urban area,” he said. The party president clarified that narrowing the gaps is not to snatch from the haves and give it to have-nots.
He said it is the government’s responsibility to support those who become rich and successful through innovation, hard work, skill and talent. But, if one becomes rich through corruption then it is not acceptable. “Rather than just preaching it, if we are to practice GNH then we need to narrow the gap,” Lotay Tshering said.
If DNT is given the chance to form the government, Lotay Tshering said the issues in the country like unemployment and water problems would be solved with different strategy.
Responding to PDP president’s statement on people getting worried about not getting 100 units of electricity free if the former government does not get elected, Lotay Tshering said it could be because people were not educated on it well.
If DNT gets elected, he said they will thank the previous governments for initiating various projects for the good of the people and the country and will continue to fulfil them, alongside projects that they might have of their own, for they were also aspirations of the people at one time.
On DPT’s question on how DNT would bring about the changes in the health sector as the party pledges in five years which the country was not able to do in 55 years, Lotay Tshering said the health services were not developed because there was no opportunity since the leaders did not know it was an issue to be addressed.
DPT’s president said to solve the issue it has to be as per the law. Lotay Tsheirng said there is nothing to change in the law to improve the health services. Health services are for the sick and when people are sick and about to die, sticking to law will not work. “The main reason for me to join politics is to make policies in health sector stronger,” he said.
Of boldness and values
BKP president Neten Zangmo remained herself: blunt, unabashed, and bold. While she was not as eloquent in Dzongkha as the other presidents at the party presidents’ first public debate yesterday, what she lacked in eloquence was made up in her boldness.
She sought the party presidents to pledge to conduct themselves and all those involved in their parties to abide by the laws and ensure a clean elections.
Her statement was clear – she represents the 49 percent of the Bhutanese population and reasserted that behind every successful man is a woman.
She said that her party would be incorruptible through the elections, in governance and beyond.
That BKP was committed to setting a good precedent of clean politics and not be divisive was evident in her repeated requests for people to fight against those who intimidate them through illegal means.
“BKP will be independent and not be influenced by any other in its decisions.”
While she said that there is nothing wrong with the laws, the main challenge is implementation. Election commission and the local government leaders should not wait for complaints to come in but act proactively.
Democracy means the participation by the people, and the government has to create opportunities for them to do so, she said.
She said there have been talks of money and activities but that the people in general do not understand their mandate. Party presidents have to give clear instructions to the party that they should not indulge in illegal means in the elections.
“It is important to question yourself on the dangerous trend that has been gaining momentum,” she said.
Neten Zangmo refrained from criticising any particular party, saying that it is not in their party’s culture.
“We will not criticise any other party but make corrections to what is going wrong. To correct the system is important. We need a platform to bring up such issues,” she said.
The election has become like a trade as there is a strong focus on winning by any means. The DPT and DNT presidents reiterated her on the trend of undesirable practice in elections.
Neten Zangmo said that it is easy for instance in central schools to build schools and give free uniforms, but the question is about sustainability. The two presidents also supplemented her statements on corruption and the sustainability issues of central schools.
Towards the end of the debate, she was pushed to the point that she resisted to get up and attend to the queries, punctuating the debate with occasional bursts of laughter.
She said that much more awareness has to be given to the people so that they can exercise their franchise without any inhibitions.
“It is the not that people don’t know but I remind them because there are elements of fear and bribery to prevent them from choosing the right party.”
People have to use their experience from the 10 years and use that to differentiate among the parties. “Building trust in the government and the people is important,” she said ending her debate with a bold appeal. “If you are concerned then cast the vote to make the change.”