The defeat of ‘one’ could be the win of ‘many that come together’

With five parties formally registered but still apprehensive about a win beyond the primaries against the seasoned incumbents, ‘merger’ is a catchphrase doing the rounds in many circles as a probability, but one that may surely come to realization in the nearing elections Fishing for candidates in a political pool that is visibly dry of potential candidates was the old reality of the years that passed. It seems the reality remains the truth as ‘new realizations’ for parties to unravel every other new constituencies or for posts to occupy.

Given a calculated and pre-empted end to developments of now, mergers is not off the menu for most thinking minds right now. Merger is on the cards and in the minds of every new political party after the primary rounds, if there is any. Merging will not be about coalition that electoral laws of the country disallow, it will be in the form of ‘candidates hopping’ and ‘supporting one another’. Speculation on merging of candidates is the talk that is red on agenda in the political scene and what makes it livelier or potential is formation of offshoot parties. When this happens, the 2013 elections will see former candidates of the same party contesting against the same pack.

Party watchers comment that new registered parties might defend against the merger plan that seems obvious in the country. As of now all the parties are registered and merging is also an option for them. “In my observation as I oversaw the party’s internal review, there are hints of merging,” said a close party worker. He also added that ‘merging should be the strategy of the new parties’. Taking in consideration the popularity of the party, finance and manpower resources, experience and better candidates ‘merging should happen as the new parties have only few candidates that are known to people and bringing resources together will fare well for the parties’ said a source.

Merger plan according to party watchers will happen in the manifest of candidates hopping to other parties after the primary round when their parties don’t make it to the general round. Political analysts say this can be a good strategy for two reasons, one for a strong opposition institution and the other can be fair distribution of potential candidates so that there will not be a landslide victory like in 2008. Another factor approving merger plan is that the presidents of the new parties as well as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s leader, they will all win from their constituencies and it would mean more votes and more seats in the parliament.

Going by candidates or the party president and the eligible voters- if the Opposition Leader (OL) with 7,520 eligible voters from Sombaykha, Haa, Bhutan Kuenyam Party (BKP) president Sonam Tobgay with 19,431 eligible voters from Athang-Thedtsho, Wangduephodrang and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) president Lily Wangchhuk with 12,628 eligible voters from North Thimphu and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) president Jigme Zangpo with 31,926 eligible voters from Mongar wins – there will be a whopping  71,505 eligible voters which one party together could at least get half the vote that can win more than 5 seat in the parliament. (This applies to both ruling and opposition).

There are every chances of political strife if candidates hop pertaining mainly to ideologies and the berth that might be offered to them by the host party. “If we can’t be the ruling party, now many parties has formed and if all can submit the letter of intent and battle the primary round, Bhutan then can have a very strong opposition party,” said a core member of a party. “It is very hard to predict the situation, certain decision will be made at that point of time,” said Druk Chirwang Tshogpa’s President, Lily Wangchhuk, speaking about DCT wanting to accept candidates after the primary rounds if DCT makes it through the primary rounds. Sharing the same opinion, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s President, Jigme Zangpo said that ‘they need to work it out on merging and it will all depend on the strength of the party’.

The other problem pointed out in the new parties is about ‘leadership incompetency’. Leadership issue can be compensated if candidates, prominent and infamous ones come together, a single party can be empowered and become a strong party for next ruling or opposition party. The civil servants had expected much from the government and this is the last year of their administration. And they haven’t still delivered much of their expectations. Also there have been as such, no new changes in the country. Gleaning such critical views, the mindset of civil servants rest on grounds where they want to see the new parties come together under one umbrella and become a strong party. Civil servants want to ‘see a change’ showing that they make the informed choice saying ‘democracy is about minority as well’.

PDP’s candidates on terms of anonymity told The Bhutanese that they would come back to the party now that they have better contacts and the ‘fog’ has been cleared off from PDP. On the other hand the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) might as well make its own arrangement with some parliamentarians from the upper house expressing their intent to become political parliamentarians. This has not been unsaid, altogether or entirely. If speculations are to be believed, it is said that DPT would be offering and candidates would be asking for its ticket to contest and the majority of candidates will be from the pool of National Council (NC) members.

‘Rupee crisis’ and ‘performance of the government in urban arenas’ will hamper the votes from the educated lot. The educated lot were also of the opinion that they might not excise their right to voting, which will affect the turnout. And yet, turnout will be more for National Assembly (NA) elections. In 2008, elections registered voters for NC and NA were 312,502 and 318,465 respectively out of which 165,962 cast the vote for NC and 252,672 cast their vote for NA.

Summing up, at the national level, the turnout for NC was 53% and 79.3% for NA. Most of the parties that The Bhutanese talked to said that ‘merging’ might happen as 47 candidates are not easy, and reviewing and re-reviewing is already happening. The new political parties say that reviewing candidates has been a laborious task and many of them don’t really ‘confirm’ their candidatures. Some of the more visibly politics-acquainted people say that the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) accepting the registration of three more parties (making it five in total for the next elections), have done a great job as DPT as it is, still remains the most strongest and have strongholds in most of the constituencies. This new development also leaves room for possibility of a strong party  fromed by merger of  three parties.

DPT is also planning to ‘win’ all the 47 constituencies with no opposition party as its strategy and it is undoubtedly true as DPT has given ticket to new candidates, young as well, who have a hold in their constituency. Word is also out in town that many candidates  (of PDP) have gone out from the same party, there might be chances of coming back together also for their ideologies are not different. In the last PDP party convention, people said that when the opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay on record said that he will ‘step down’ if its former president Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup joins the party, it was a clear message that opposition leader heeded the grapevine that ‘former candidates’ will join PDP again if Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup joins politics (joins PDP).

Meanwhile, the suspense is only about the ‘two parties’ that will be voted for the general rounds which already seems slim and bleak. Hopping of candidates will not be visible right away as all parties are gearing up to hunt the best candidates. According to some talks, it is said that DPT and PDP will overshadow all the other parties as the new parties are not properly introduced to people and it also owes to the short campaign period that ECB is working toward to maintain a level playing field. In this light, most candidates are hoping to buy tickets of these two founding parties of Bhutan.

The trend in ‘merging’ back in 2007 was quite different and a precedence not so practiced now. Merging happened way before the primary round that finally led to no primary round at all. DPT was a product of  the merger of three parties called Bhutan People’s United Party (BPUP), All People’s Party (APP) and the late in scene, Bhutan National Party (BNP). The political party in the fray that remained undeterred to merging was the PDP. Another in the process so much like Druk Mitser Nazhoen Tshogpa (DMNT), in 2007 there was also a lobby group from the South which approached PDP but had received an indifferent response as PDP was not ready to really consider their demands while party president then Lyonchhen accepted it as ‘top priority’ to foster greater sense of security and peace in the country.

Today DMNT remains under the umbrella of PDP with more than 1,000 youth strength. In Germany, for instance, coalition government is the norm. However, in Bhutan the constitution and electoral laws do not encourage political parties from forming coalition government.

 Courtesy: The Bhutanese