Shaken, but not discouraged by recent developments in social media politics, the Druk Phuensum Tsogpa (DPT) is all set for the primary round of the National Assembly election next week, which arguably will be the biggest political test since its formation in July 2007.
Born out of the merger of Bhutan People’s United Party and All People’s Party, the Thrung Thrung is flying with confidence. It has overcome speculations on its participation in the 2018 elections.
DPT is contesting the election under the leadership of party president Pema Gyamtsho, who was the agriculture minister in the first democratically elected government and the opposition leader in the second National Assembly.
About fifteen of the party’s candidates are former MPs, six of whom are vying for a third term in Parliament. Former education minister Thakur Singh Powdyel joined the party to contest from Samtse’s Dophuchen-Tading constituency last month as the 47th candidate. His return to the party after a gap of five years, DPT members say, gave the party a major boost ahead of the primaries.
Pema Gyamtsho said, “Our cutting edge is the proven track record as government and opposition in serving the Tsawa Sum. We have experienced and qualified candidates, long-term equitable and sustainable policies and plans and broad-based public support.”
“We have faith and confidence in the wisdom and judgment of our people to support us as a party that would fulfill our collective aspirations for a secure, prosperous and peaceful future under the benevolent reign of His Majesty The King,” he added.
Including the party president, four of DPT candidates possess a PhD, 16 have a Masters degree and 27 have a Bachelors degree.
The party says that it has cautiously chosen a mix of both young and experienced candidates for demographic representation. Five of them are in the age group of 25 to 30 years, while 14 fall between 31 and 40 years of age. A majority, 18 candidates are in the age group of 41 to 50 years, and 10 between 51 and 60 years of age.
However, like most of the political parties, DPT is fielding only five women candidates, one of whom was the former president of the erstwhile Druk Chirwang Tshogpa, Lily Wangchuk. She is expected to bring the supporters of her former party to DPT, but this remains to be seen.
Lily Wangchuk is one of the three vice presidents of DPT and will contest from the North Thimphu constituency.
Some of the experienced members, including Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk from Lamgong-Wangcha constituency and Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba from South Thimphu and Dasho Zanglay Dukpa from Khar-Yurung have retired from active politics.
However, party members say that the seniors would provide guidance to new comers in the party. The party replaced Wangdi Norbu from Bartsham-Shongphu, Jigme Wangchuk from Radhi-Sakteng and Dechen Zangmo from Nanong-Shumar with new candidates, while retaining rest of members of the 14-member opposition.
DPT won with a landslide majority, winning 45 of the 47 seats in the National Assembly in the country’s first general election. During the 2013 election, the party had 799 registered members.
However, following the conclusion of the National Assembly elections, DPT was reduced to the smallest party in terms of membership with only 80 registered members some five years back.
Today, DPT has a total of 4,705 members, which is six folds more than the pre-election membership strength in 2013. It has a fund balance of Nu 2.27 million according to a report released recently by the election commission.
In the 2013 primary, DPT secured 44.88 percent of the total EVM votes and 42.88 percent of the postal ballots cast for four political parties and won 33 constituencies in the primary round. However, the party faced a shock defeat in the general election wining just 15 seats. DPT secured 45.87 percent of the EVM votes and 41.59 percent of postal ballots cast.
While the party lost most of the constituencies in the general round, it won comprehensively in some of the constituencies. DPT won 88.1 percent of the total votes cast in Nganglam constituency, 81.6 percent in Khar-Yurung and 78.8 percent in Nanong-Shumar of Pemagatshel. Its lowest votes obtained were 25.4 percent in Ugyentse-Yoeseltse, 28.9 percent in Tashichhoeling and 30.1 percent in Phuentshogpelri, all in Samtse.
The party has strengthening of sovereignty, security and self-sufficiency high on its priority list. The party has been advocating for empowerment of people and raised concerns against distribution of utilities to the people for free.
DPT states, “In pursuing the noble vision of our Kings, our party has adopted growth with equity and justice as the core value that will guide the party in its endeavours. We see these as the noble means to the noblest end. Justice is the fundamental condition for continued peace, progress and stability of nations just as equity is the means to harmony and sustainable prosperity.”
The party stresses that it has been supportive of all government actions and policies that carried the scope and prospect to bring larger benefits to the country and the people. However, the party adds that it raised its concerns where it felt that the government was introducing policies and programmes that do not benefit the people.
The government’s plans to corporatise JDWNRH, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement, the establishment of REDCL (erstwhile BOIC) and central schools were the main issues DPT objected to as the opposition.
DPT has also opposed the purchase of helicopters, supply of power tillers and Boleros to gewogs and farms shops, describing them as populist measures. Such measures, DPT argues, will pose challenges against achieving self-reliance, which it says is necessary for strengthening of national sovereignty and security.
If it forms the government, DPT says it will be a responsive while subjecting itself to transparency, accountability and public scrutiny. The party believes in keeping both the short-term needs and long-term interests of the nation and the people.
Two years after forming the first democratically elected government, DPT was taken to court by the then opposition People’s Democratic Party alleging the government of increasing vehicle taxes without passing them through Parliament. The DPT government lost the first constitutional case, which resulted in the government refunding those who had bought vehicles.
As part of its ambitious foreign policy aimed at strengthening Bhutan’s sovereignty, the DPT government in 2012 fielded its candidature for a seat in the UN Security Council. However, Bhutan secured only 20 votes from 193 member nations although a third-thirds majority was required.
The party claims that DPT was able to fulfill 151 of 153 pledges as the first government. DPT lists the starting of five hydropower projects – Dagachu, Punatsangchu I and II, Mangdechu, and Nikachu, and expansion of the road networks by 5,980 Kilometers as some of its biggest achievements.
During its tenure in the government, DPT says that some 40,000 households received electricity while taking credit for taking the mobile phone connectivity to all 20 dzongkhags and 205 gewogs.
After the resignation of former party president Jigmi Y Thinley in 2013, Pema Gyamtsho from Bumthang’s Choekor-Tang constituency took over the party’s leadership in the same year.
The 57-year-old, who has Masters in Agriculture Science from New Zealand and PhD from ETH Zurich, is considered as a humble and approachable leader by many.
He was a member of the Planning Commission, Sustainable Development Secretariat, Centre for Bhutan Studies, Forestry Development Corporation Board and Founding Co-Chairman of Bhutan Water Partnership.
He was later promoted as the Deputy Secretary of Policy Planning Division, Ministry of Agriculture. He has also worked with ICIMOD based in Kathmandu, Nepal as a specialist in watershed management. He also served as the Deputy Resident Coordinator of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation.