The big sideshow is over. The oldest democracy, the Unites States of America, has elected a new president. The main show is yet to begin in the youngest democracy, in a small constituency with 6,219 eligible voters where two candidates are vying for a seat in Parliament through a bye-election.
The two elections cannot be compared both in terms of size and implications, but both elections are keeping a lot of Bhutanese on their toes. In the US, it is the first time in 28 years that a sitting President has lost the presidency to a rival candidate. Analysts are already talking about how the global order could change with a new president. As a champion of environment conservation and one of the 10 global biodiversity hotspots, “Button” (Bhutan) could relax in president-elect Joe Biden’s policy of re-joining the Paris climate accord and be a part of the global effort to combat climate change.
At home, in the bye-election in the Chhoekhor-Tang constituency, not many can look beyond electing a new member of Parliament. Two years of the five-year term have already passed. What changes could a new representative bring?
There are promises of roads—constructing and blacktopping, developing tourism, agriculture, equipping the dzongkhag hospital with specialists and developing the Jakar town as a model town. If the promises can be fulfilled, which we now know is difficult, even without a pandemic, the people of Bumthang, not only the constituency, would benefit.
At the moment, many see the bye-election as a test for the two political parties. For the DNT, their candidate winning would mean breaking into the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa stronghold. It was the third time, until the former agriculture minister and two times leader of the opposition resigned that the constituency has been a DPT stronghold.
The stakes are higher for the government or the DNT party. It could be the litmus test for the ruling government whose candidate has already assured voters that as a member of the ruling government, the promises are deliverable.
The government has the authority to reprioritise and appropriate budget within the plan outlay based on its needs, including blacktopping of farm roads. The ruling government has an edge here. Blacktopping of three farm roads raised the antenna of the Chhoekhor voters.
For the DPT, winning the constituency would be a moral booster. If people still vote for the party, even after their elected representative resigned, it speaks volumes about the support they have in the constituency. The new candidate is not making many promises. His key pledge is to “ensure timely completion of the 12th Plan activities.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the planned activities. There are lots of activities being reprioritised. The pandemic will still determine which development activities or promises will be fulfilled in Bumthang or the other dzongkhags.
At the moment, the promise of blacktopping three roads seems to have caught the attention, at least in the Chhoekhor area. The new leader of the opposition party has arrived in Bumthang yesterday to woo the voters. How will he convince voters to keep the constituency as a DPT stronghold?