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The politics of crowd

Each time a political party holds its party convention, the Royal Institute of Management’s multipurpose hall in Thimphu expands.

When Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa held its convention at the RIM hall in May this year, the first among the parties to do so, more than 2,000 people attended the meeting. A month later, more than 6,500 people poured into the same hall to attend Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party’s convention. Last month, when Druk Phuensum Tshogpa held its convention, it saw an attendance of about 5,500 people. The last party to hold its convention, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) claimed that about 9,000 people attended its convention on August 4.

The RIM hall, touted the biggest in the country and which has been the venue for the convocation and graduates’ orientation is reported to accommodate only about 3,000 people. Politicians are likely to argue that this estimate is only for those seated in the chairs. More were seated on the floor and even more were outside the hall, attending the convention from tents and corridors. All parties said they were overwhelmed by the huge turnout of people at their conventions.

We are starting our national assembly elections with exaggerations. The size of the crowd has become a badge of honour, something to display each party’s support base. It has become almost necessary because parties feel that conventions are about energising the faithful to mobilise and vote. Since the reactions from the public are central to the narrative of politicians, we will see more of such theatrics as the election fever heightens.

If all parties have a good support base across the country, as they claim, then it means that the parties will have to do more to persuade and convince the people on why each of them should govern. And in promising promises and hurling criticisms, parties are exaggerating and risking dumbing voters who are already aware of the politics and their power.

As the country enters this critical period, the question that arises is how do people decide to vote for a particular party or a candidate? After two rounds of parliamentary elections, we must accept that the people’s voting behaviour is motivated by more complex factors than the power of the spoken word. Rumours are already doing the rounds that money has yet again entered politics. But people know that money was always there. Just no one made it an issue. We seem to have normalised critical election issues as the norm of politics and chose to remain mere spectators? Are the Bhutanese people happy about this election narrative?

The election period is about politics of policymaking and unmaking of policies. All parties are prepared to hit the political field to rouse the electorate. It will be one of those times when those wanting to govern will be the closest to those they wish to govern. But when the graduates’ orientation begins later this month, the RIM’s multipurpose hall is likely to shrink to its original size.  Another non-issue again.

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