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The electoral surprise

Even as the country enters the general round of election period, discussions continue on what was the bigger surprise of the primary round – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) win or People Democratic Party’s (PDP) loss. 

Until the results started pouring in, the perception was that PDP would get through the primaries. It did not. PDP bagged the highest number of EVM votes among the four parties and 70 percent of the 79,883 votes it won on the EVM.  The 23,703 postal ballot votes it secured were not enough to win the primaries.

Postal ballot service is availed by the civil servants, armed force personnel, a section of the corporate and private employees, Bhutanese living abroad and those with special needs. Their dependents are also eligible for the facility. This group makes up 133,795 of the registered voters. But of the 108,580 postal votes received, PDP won 21.8 percent of the votes.

While votes from this group, the literate and urbanites, along with several factors, is said to have made the difference to the outcome of the primary round election, observers say that the main reason for PDP’s loss was self-constructed. It decided to replace 12 candidates and that move according to many was a political suicide. 

Save for Kabisa_Talog constituency in Punakha, PDP lost in all constituencies where it had replaced the incumbent MP candidates. DPT won two of these constituencies, Chumey_Ura in Bumthang and Jomotshangkha_Martshala in Samdrupjongkhar. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) swept the rest.

“PDP replaced performing MPs on the pretext of bringing in the best and the brightest and this worked against the party,” an observer said. 

Apart from senior public servants, PDP brought in some 10 new candidates who were all senior civil servants, the best and the brightest in the words of the party president. Besides raising concerns on the politicisation of the civil service, this move did not help the party or the new candidates. 

Speculations are rife that the civil service was not satisfied with the PDP government, which led to the party garnering less postal votes. As of June 30 this year, the civil service’s strength stood at 28,973, which make up only 21.6 percent of the total registered postal voters, that is if all voted. Of the 133,795 registered postal voters, 12,111 were from the armed force, 15,306 were conventional postal voters, 3,568 were overseas postal voters, 4,658 special needs postal voters, 279 remote postal voters and 97,873 were facilitation booth postal voters. 

While the civil servants and their dependents would make up a chunk of the postal votes, the literate voters who follow the election process and campaigns, both in the fields and social media and reportedly neutral voters, felt the former national council chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga’s (PhD) post was unfair to the electoral process. This feeling among them is believed to have backfired PDP in garnering more postal votes. 

The PDP president had cited anti-incumbency and confidence among the candidates as the party’s biggest challenge this election. While anti-incumbency remains a challenge for any party that forms the government, the party’s supporters may have gone overbroad in campaigning against other parties than in campaigning for the party. With a wise electorate, this strategy at least on social media bombed. The two parties that were criticised the most on social media won the primaries. 

Having rose from the rubble in 2008, the pride of bringing the economy back on track and fulfilling most of its pledges made PDP believe that these achievements were enough to gallop through the primary round and ensure continuity. Campaigning for continuity with a dozen new candidates on board was not enough, at least for the electorate.

If the primary election result reiterated the fact that Bhutanese electorate is unpredictable, it also surprised many when DPT sailed through the primary round.

This is because DPT won only 15 seats in 2013 general elections and many did not see it as a strong opposition in the Parliament.

Observers, especially urban residents, said that with all the negative campaigning happening on social media against the party, they never expected DPT to win.

“All the online polls on social media indicated DPT’s popularity but I thought people must be using multiple fake accounts,” a Thimphu resident, Pema said.

But people say the negative campaigning is one main reason for DPT’s win.

Most Thimphu residents say Dasho Sonam Kinga’s post on Facebook and voice message on WeChat came at a wrong time. “Many neutral electorate might have voted for DPT, as the post and voice message came a week before the postal ballot voting,” a resident said.

People also took on social media to claim that DPT won because of Dasho Sonam Kinga and DNT because of the video clip of former BBS anchor and journalist, Dawa.

Both DNT and DPT won the primaries because of postal votes.

The incumbent government, PDP won the votes cast on the EVM. It secured 56,180 votes on EVM against DNT’s 55,166 and DPT’s 53,108.

However, PDP managed to secure only 23,703 postal votes against DNT’s 37,556 and DPT’s 36,912.

“PDP could not make up the huge margin they lost in postal votes through the EVM,” a corporate employee, Tshering, said.

The voter turnout for postal ballots in dzongkhags DPT won were also high, contributing to the party’s win.

Of the 12,786 registered postal voters from Mongar, 10,644 cast their votes. DPT secured 4,698 postal votes.

Pemagatshel received 9,726 postal votes of which 5,491 went for DPT. There are 11,536 registered postal voters in the dzongkhag.

Samdrupjongkhar received 7, 746 postal ballots of the total 9,376 registered postal voters and 3,025 was for DPT.

Trashigang received 16,138 postal votes of the 19,267 registered voters. DPT secured 6,310.

In Trashiyangtse, of the 7,307 registered voters, 6,081 cast their ballots and 2,553 went for DPT.

Many senior citizens also attribute the presidential debate as the reason for supporting DPT, claiming that of the four party presidents, DPT president Pema Gyamtsho exhibited leadership quality and maturity.

While many felt he lacked the enthusiasm and vigour needed for the debate, others took to social media to assert that Pema Gyamtsho maintained a calm composure needed for a president of a party.

The president had said that the party’s biggest challenge would be to counter the baseless rumors that some vested interest groups spread to further their own narrow interests. Going by the results, these rumours did not influence its voters.

Sonam Pelden and Tashi Dema

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