At least in presenting the various party lines, the presidential debate served its purpose
It was more an opportunity to showcase each of the political party’s leaderships, this presidential public debate held yesterday in Thimphu, as they introduced their parties to the electorate and informed them in brevity of their ideologies.
Much before the debates began, perhaps as a show of support, members of the four political parties and their workers from across the country, former ministers and assembly members, besides a few businessmen and students, poured into the Royal Thimphu College auditorium by 5pm yesterday.
The debate was being broadcast live for the nation to see.
An hour later, it was ladies first, led by Druk Chirwang Tshogpa president Lily Wangchhuk, followed by Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s Dorji Choden in measured steps.
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa president Jigmi Y Thinley entered with a smile and a traditional bow at the audience, and People’s Democratic Party president Tshering Tobgay followed him.
Clad in blue, with striking red collar rolled out, Lily Wangchhuk started first with her 10-minute speech, beginning with how she decided to join politics before delving into her party’s ideology.
She said her party was about taking GNH to the grassroots. Happiness, she said was an individual pursuit, and that the job of the government was to create an ambiance suitable for people to realise that.
On the issue of her party having more young candidates, she said young candidates in her party were those that struggled in life and pulled through many hardships.
She said they were in the best of positions to understand the issues facing the common people in the villages and the youth in particular.
All the while, sitting on a chair beside the podium, Jigmi Y Thinley looked into the far end of the crowd, smiling on familiar faces along the front row that his eyes met, and occasionally scribbling on an open file on his lap.
Dorji Choden sat still, with her eyes rolling from one corner to another and up to the far end of the auditorium, while Tshering Tobgay sat on the chair stiff and stone-like, casting a random glare into the crowd.
Much like the way she walked, Dorji Choden began her speech in an even-paced gentle tone.
She spoke of her humble upbringing and the struggles in getting herself educated, before talking about her party and how they had envisioned a people’s government.
In a country of small population and without economic prowess to boast of, people, she said took the centre-stage, and that it was these people’s support her party sought.
Inequality, she said, required attention today and that, should her party form the government, it would be the kind that people should not have to fear or feel intimidated about.
As Dorji Choden finished her 10 minutes, Jigmi Y Thinley sprang up from his chair and began speaking with his usual ease.
His government’s achievements in poverty reduction, hydropower projects, tourism, roads, electricity and telecommunication facilities were what he reiterated.
Following that, he began listing the fruits of these achievements that his party would work on, should they be elected.
He also spoke of the need for a clear focus on youth unemployment, farm mechanisation, further decentralising power to the local levels, and improving loans facilities for farmers.
Civil service rules, he said, needed a relook, particularly in terms of their entitlements.
Corruption, he said, would continue to be on their list of issues to curb and that, during his term, he set a precedent for all future prime ministers to be open for investigations.
It was then Tshering Tobgay’s turn to bow in front of the audience and return to his military posture and to the podium.
Perhaps used to playing the opposition, he wore the same tone as in the assembly, and said he doubted if the debate was going in the manner stipulated by the election commission.
Unlike the previous speakers, who touched more on their pledges to the voters, he said the debate should be more on the parties’ ideologies.
After that he talked about how the party was formed and that its objective of decentralising power to the people remained unchanged.
Rupee crunch, unemployment and rural-urban migration, among others, he said, were issues facing the country and, if not addressed immediately, would roll into something that could cost the country dear.
For that to happen, he said, policy change was needed, change in ways to conduct business and, all in all, it was a change in government this called for.
Therefore, he asked the electorate to support PDP.
The debate ended with each of the party president pitching questions to one another and clarifying and reinforcing their beliefs, ideals and philosophies.
By Samten Wangchuk