New political party to contest Bhutan's 2013 polls

The News Desk in Thimpu/Kuensel
Asia News Network15 January 2012

Thimpu (Kuensel/ANN) - It has chosen a name, written its charter and completed most of the paperwork needed for registration, but is waiting for a favourable day (zakar) to go public.

The Socialist Democratic Party getting ready to contest the 2013 general election in Bhutan has an ideology and it is based on social democratic principles, according to Dr Tandi Dorji, a member of its "core working group".

"It is in the truest sense a political party, if a political party is defined or understood as an aggregation of views, or a group of people, who think alike or have similar ideologies," he said. "For a political party there has to be an ideology, on what you base your beliefs. So we have come to a common understanding to work on social democratic principles," he said.

Dorji said that while Bhutan was already much of a welfare state, much of what is happening would continue, but the party had chosen an ideology between extreme left and right. "We 'd encourage capitalism or privatisation, and continue providing welfare to the majority of the populace, especially in rural areas," he said. Privatising health services was one.

Dorji said the new party would be one that gives importance to the party and not individuals. "We don 't want any individual to get so much influence over our party. We believe interest of the nation must come above all, and then the party 's interest above any individual, which isn 't happening right now."

The Socialist Democratic Party will not appoint tshogpas in the villages to "avoid expenditure and creating rift in the communities".

"People don 't like being identified with a party. This has created rift in the villages, between families, between neighbours, so this actually could be a disadvantage," he said.

"We 're trying to create the party that is sustainable even without state funding. We believe that there 's no need to have party workers," he said.

Tandi, the co-author of "Drukyul Decides", which documented Bhutan 's first democratic elections, said the huge debt DPT and PDP incurred was because of keeping paid tshogpas and offices. "Having a tshogpa doesn 't guarantee votes," he said, sharing his experience as a losing PDP candidate from Punakha in the 2008 elections.

Choice for 2013

The new party, according to the former PDP member from Punakha, was formed to provide a choice for Bhutanese democracy. "There are lots of people, who want to see an alternative, as there are only two member in the opposition party. We 'll provide them opportunity," he said.

Tandi, who resigned from PDP in 2009, said the core group decided that there has to be a new generation of leaders. "For the past 15 to 20 years, we 've been dependent on the same set of ministers. Sadly, not much has been done to mentor the next generation of leaders."

But entering the fray the party would at least provide the opportunity for a primary round of elections where the people of Bhutan will decide which two parties will contest the general election. This, Tandi believes, is of utmost importance. "I didn 't have an ideology in 2008. I believed in my president like many others," he said.

The new party, according to Tandi, has been working for the past one and a half years and already identified a leader. Although he declined to name names, he said they have senior civil servants, corporate employees, three former PDP members and former PDP and DPT party workers.

"We took so long because we were very careful in choosing our people. We identified 27 and narrowed it down to five," he said. The shortlist includes senior civil servants like serving secretaries. "The problem is they are civil servants and we can 't hold open political meetings or let their names out." Tandin said the core group developed a set of about 17 indicators, like leadership skills, linguistic skills, experience, background, likeability to shortlist.

The Social Democratic Party 's logo has a plant instead of an animal as its party symbol.

Chances of winning

"The party is aware of DPT 's strength, and we 're working on our ideology to tell people why they should vote for us. DPT MPs can travel to their constituencies and campaign effectively. We don 't have that opportunity," he said. "DPT stands a better chance, but we 'd like to provide a strong opposition."

Asked if they would pick on weaknesses or failure of the government, Tandi said the government could have already prepared what to tell the voters. "The Lyonchhoen is a clever and shrewd politician, he 'd have worked out the responses," he said. "But we 're still developing our strategies and working on the ideology to convince people to vote for us."

A drawback for new political parties is the civil service and election rules, which restrict politicking before the election period. "Politicians are seen as villains. People try to keep a distance even if they 're interested to associate, because rules don 't allow," he said. "For new parties like ours, we need to take our charter out to the public and tell people to come out and look at it. If they believe and want to support, the system should allow it. "We don 't have the audience. Everything has to be done secretly because of the restriction."

State funding

Although the party is determined to run with or without state funding, Tandi is in the same boat when it comes to state funding. State funding only the ruling and opposition party will kill democracy because it won 't give opportunities for the new parties to come, he said.

"We believe that, from 2013, all political parties that contest the primary round and win certain percentage of votes should be given state funding," he said. "If a party wins 15 percent of nearly 200,000 to 300,000 votes, that means a substantial number of people believe in that party. Based on those criteria, they should be given the same amount of money to sustain, so that the parties remain active even during non election years."