The presidents of the two new political parties, Neten Zangmo and Lotay Tshering, said on air that their biggest challenge in the upcoming elections is corruption through money factor.
The Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) presidents, in an interview with Bhutan Broadcasting Service’s (BBS) programme on party presidents, said that while they are prepared for the elections, they worry if money would not sway votes in favour of other parties.
While both the presidents did not name the party that is pumping in money in the constituencies, BKP President Neten Zangmo said even her former students and party supporters persuade her to spend some money.
“I kept telling them they would have kiras, ghos, mats and beers on one hand and a bright future on the other,” she said.
She said people should be aware that a party loses independence when they depend on donations, as the donors would later expect the party, if it forms the government, to frame policies that benefit them. “BKP is a poor party and BKP’s wealth is not money and power.”
DNT President Lotay Tshering said DNT does not have money and that it is something they do not want.
He said if money is out of the equation, he is definite that DNT will form the government. “With the money in the equation, we will be out.”
The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) president, Pema Gyamtsho, said the two new parties should come up clean on as to who is distributing money.
He also said DPT would win if there is no money or threats involved. “I have heard one of the parties is not clean as they claim to be and still talk about money power.”
The president of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Tshering Tobgay, said the country is into the third elections and parties lose, which has to be accepted gracefully.
“This time they are already predicting their excuses. I think it’s wrong,” he said. “If they say parties are giving money, they have to prove it and take the perpetrators to task. This is very distasteful. Voters will not feel a sense of satisfaction.”
Tshering Tobgay said they are already making excuses saying that money is coming into play, there is fear instilled and people are scared. “If you lose, you will have 101 excuses.”
He also said that money would play in so much as allowed by law, from voluntary contribution. “Nothing illegal should be tolerated by ECB, parties themselves and especially by the voters. I have heard politicians tell voters to accept gifts and money but vote properly for their choice. This is wrong. Voters should not take it but rather report them.”
While all parties claim that they do not have money, records at the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) show BKP has a total fund balance of Nu 1,224,388, DNT has Nu 1,987,340, DPT has Nu 2,279,582 and PDP has Nu 8,836,217.
With forums on social media sites like Facebook filled with allegations of parties and candidates distributing money, many are of the view that there are parties that have more money than the ones reflected by ECB.
A Thimphu resident, who follows election closely, said there are many big companies who are willing to pump in money in the elections so that they could benefit if the party forms the government.
But the real challenge lies in proving if there is money factor and if it would play a role in the elections.
ECB officials say that while parties make fuss about the money factor, no one has complained to them officially.
Party officials, while talking off-the-record with media professionals, say with ECB officials mandating the complainant with the burden of proof and most Bhutanese citizens not willing to come forward and support, it is difficult to lodge a formal complaint.
The modus operandi
While no one ones come on record, people who have been actively working for political parties say there is money in the elections and it is either the candidates seeking support from individuals by paying money or rich party supporters depositing money into other party supporters’ account, who would then distribute it by buying vouchers, gifts or organising events.
A party worker for a candidate in 2013 said two contractors deposited a huge amount into his account, which was supposed to be distributed to people. “I benefitted about Nu 1.4M,” he said.
There are also incidences where people ask for money from candidates, promising votes. “They said they have huge vote bank and that we should provide them money as bus fares and daily sustenance allowance (DSA),” a Thimphu resident, who is an active party worker, said.
Whose responsibility to monitor?
The talk about money in politics is an open secret. Political party candidates say they do not want to report since it will not only consume their time but also because people do not want to come on record.
Media say people approach them and ask them if they could do a story but no one wants to come on record. Election officials say people should come with proof and they would investigate it.
However, most say they are optimistic that the Bhutanese electorate know better and that they would not sell their votes.
“Bhutan is a small and unique country and our democracy is, therefore, unique too. If the rumour about money and bribery is true, I am sure people will not vote for that party,” a Thimphu resident, Tshering, said.
A corporate employee, Jigme, said Bhutanese have always made the right choice and people will ensure their votes will not be bought. “It’s the duty of every Bhutanese to educate others not to vote for the candidate or party bribes them.”
Additional reporting by Tshering Dorji and MB Subba