It is not clear whether it is self-afflicted or designed but political parties have been indicating that the upcoming national election is gripped with fear.

The Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) president, Neten Zangmo, first raised the issue on air during a programme on Bhutan Broadcasting Services (BBS).

She said that the society is fear-stricken, be it in the civil service or those in the private sector. Democracy, she said, is all about fearlessness, responsibility and trust. “In an environment of fear, we cannot have a vibrant democracy.”

Neten Zangmo said BKP invited some youth to talk about some inspiring stories at their youth convention but the youth were too scared to talk. “It appears there is a lack of democratic culture.”

She emphasised the need for a discourse on fear.

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) president, Lotay Tshering, at the recent party presidents’ debate, asserted that people should give chance to the two new parties, DNT and BKP, reasoning that it is dangerous if a political party takes root in a democratic culture.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) president, Pema Gyamtsho, at a press conference alleged that the civil servants, because of fear instilled within the bureaucracy by the last government, are too scared to talk.

He also raised the issue during the recent debate and said that besides the civil servants, even the media is silenced. “People are scared and there is so much trust deficit in the society.”

It was only the People’s Democratic Party president, Tshering Tobgay, who said there is no fear and that people might have been scared of the DPT president.

He, however, said that the biggest challenge ahead is the 12th Plan, which is projected to cost about Nu 336B. He said it is the contingent of a good government that can deliver and most importantly mobilise those resources.

In the fields meanwhile, political party supporters, people allege, are also spreading fear.

A corporate employee in Thimphu, on the condition of anonymity, said some party workers have been asking them to vote for the party of their choice. “Now with elections nearing, my friends and I are told that they would know whom we voted for.”

He said when party workers do such things to people like him, who are educated and know that such a thing is not possible, he worries how severe the situation may be in the villages. “All parties have the responsibility to educate their supporters to refrain from such activities.”

A Thimphu resident, Tshering, said people in his village called to ask him if it is mandatory to vote for a particular party if they filled up the form they were asked to fill.

“My relatives back home were also asked how many civil servants are there in the house. They were worried if we would also vote for that party,” he said. “I explained to them no one will be able to trace who they voted for.”

He said while the party candidates and supporters must be asking about civil servants to know the details of the family, uneducated people interpret it otherwise. “The Election Commission of Bhutan should create some awareness among the rural residents. They live in constant fear.”

ECB’s head of election department and media spokesperson Sonam Tobgyal, said the commission has already informed the parties not to use fear tactics for political mileage while issuing the letter of intent to the parties.

He said the Bhutanese electorate have voted many times and are aware that their votes are secret and safe. “The voters use their best judgment and parties should avoid fear mongering for the larger interest of the country, as it portrays as if everything is not right.”

Sonam Tobgyal said that party supporters making people fill up forms and claiming they would track whether they voted or not is a blatant lie. “No one should believe it.”

ECB and relevant stakeholders, he said, conducted a series of voter education programmes and voters are aware that no one can track their votes.

Tashi Dema