In 2008, a few days before the general election, a veteran journalist walked into Bhutan Times – the newspaper I was working for then – and was asked the obvious question: Which party did he think would win? His answer was interesting. He felt the DPT could lose because the party’s poll pitch, throughout the campaign period, had been nothing but preachy, with more or less the same sermons being delivered in all the Dzongkhags, by one man the party heavily relied on.
In the aftermath of the landslide DPT victory, that observation begs the question: Why did PDP’s strategy fail so miserably while DPT’s ‘approach’ succeed so overwhelmingly?
My view. The PDP did what any new political party would, assuring voters that their young new candidates would help villages and communities prosper. But, that assurance somewhat fell short. Their strategy overlooked the rural distress that had over the years been steadily on the rise. To return to the well-worn cliché of that time, city folks were prospering while those in rural pockets were left behind.
DPT did things differently. Right from the onset of their campaign, they seemed more sensitive to the needs of the grassroots. Without mincing words, it was made clear that the party would address issues that had for long been plaguing them. In short, they provided people with a sense of belonging – more than PDP had managed to do. People, in almost all the gatherings all over the country, were convinced that being part of the ‘DPT family’ would ensure their progress and perhaps put an end to their woes. So when the elections came around, the Bhutanese countryside was, in the true sense of the word, ‘decided’. Even urban dwellers backed DPT because most have their roots in the villages.
Of course, the problems in Bhutan’s villages are far from over. And many would argue that the rural programs of the DPT government didn’t work as well as expected. But what is important is the fact that the DPT was seen as willing to help. That certainly appears to have translated into votes. PDP too had plans for the countryside. But while it mainly focused on infrastructure development, DPT targeted people. The assurance of building schools and sorting out the tiresome procedure of obtaining No Objection Certificates for instance, directly touched hundreds of people.
All this, however, doesn’t imply that rural Bhutan has progressed tremendously in the five years. The crisis of unemployment and diminishing returns from agriculture need a more comprehensive strategy and sustained injection of resources. But the DPT government made a start. Today, as the elections loom large once again, with five political parties in the fray, it will be interesting to see which party defies cries of populism to address issues that really need to be addressed. It will be interesting to see which party will reach further and connect with the common people. Be careful not to promise things that one can’t deliver, because everything is easier said than done and five years do pass quickly. If we have to learn anything from the first elections, it is that the political pundits, pollsters, and even politicians (aspirants et al) shouldn’t be too sure about predicted outcomes. It is easy to see things in hindsight, but not necessarily now. So play right, be truthful about what you can deliver.
Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason – José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, translated from Portuguese.
Mitra Raj Dhital