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The value of discourse

What is the status of democracy in Bhutan? Is the status of political parties reflecting the state of democracy? How do we engage youth in the democratic process, are there enough civic education? Are we creating an environment of fear? What are the ideologies of our political parties?

Yesterday, the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy brought together representatives of political parties at a Democracy Forum to discuss the “State of Bhutan’s Democracy,” and to engage the people in a healthy discourse on policies, issues and priorities. At the end of the three-hour long forum, there are more questions than answers.

Such discourse on the eve of an Assembly election is important. The questions asked were relevant. The gathering of more than 100 people from diverse background spoke the minds of many Bhutanese who are searching for answers. The representatives spoke their mind too- of the challenges, confusion, mistrust and division created by party politics.

Like some representatives said, 10 years into transition is a small time to see big changes. Democracy in Bhutan is an on-going process. Democracy is but an entire system of values that places the responsibility of governance on the people. We have introduced democracy. The real objective is to make it work. The forum presented a chance for political parties to present their ideas and experiences. From the experience, we learnt that there is a lot to do.

The voters, at least some, are becoming sophisticated. They are looking for ideological positions of political parties. In the absence of clear-cut political ideologies, Bhutanese are voting based on personalities of party leaders or candidates or on the influence of party workers. There is a consensus that Bhutanese voters have become more experienced. But this is superficial.

What we know is that we don’t know how Bhutanese vote for their leaders. Walking to the polling station to cast votes is just one aspect of participation in the process. If we are going there to vote for the relative or through the influence of the party worker, we are not exercising our franchise. Political parties are choosing candidates based on their chance to secure majority seat. So if you have a larger family network or an influential relative, your chances of getting a ticket is higher.

Representatives of the political parties agreed that what democracy has done is created a divided society, community and family. This has presented a negative image of political parties and politicians. Democracy, of course, is not our goal. It is a strategy to achieve good governance. In his wisdom, His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo envisioned a Bhutanese democracy as the best path to good governance.

The ultimate aim is to create a democratic system that is unique as Bhutan is. In aspiring to do that we have lots to do. Public discourse is one. Political parties agree that there are many things that are going wrong. It is good that we are realising this. It is good that we are learning from our mistakes.

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