I arrived in Bhutan a few days after the second general elections – a milestone in the journey of our country’s fledgling democracy.
A milestone unfortunately marred with ugly accusations hurled at each other from both sides of the two political parties that had contested – The People’s Democratic Party and Druk Phuesum Tshogpa.
The air over Thimphu, I found was heavy with mistrust, fear, whispers and confusion.
The rumor mill was busier than usual and many had taken to social media to air and battle out their differences. The most insidious of these posts and comments on social media seemed to come from those who have much to gain from inciting fear and hatred by branding people as “anti-nationals” and “Ngolops” thereby expressing their hate and hoping they appear “patriotic.” Some of these posters were ostentatious enough to let others know that they were the only ones concerned for the King and country.
Having split my life between Bhutan and living overseas for over a decade now I can only speak from what I have witnessed outside and from the experiences of what others in the world have gone through before us in history. When segregation is promoted and a group of people are targeted and branded as traitors simply because of their race, religion, caste, color, choice of a political party, and for speaking their thoughts, then it means that people promoting it are ignorant enough not to understand what a functioning democracy is. This behavior actually undermines the democracy it pretends to promote. It, therefore, makes me wonder, is it a true democratic culture that we aspire to build or do we want to become a caricature of a democracy like those we see all to often around us in the region. A caricature where a small few inspire outrage and violence because they cannot tolerate the views or differences of those in the community.
Without fail, those inculcating this climate of fear have vested interests to control the dialogue and outcome for the larger population because this is what fear-mongers do. If leaders and a government heed to the divisive calls of these small-minded inciters then our country will likely go down the path of many other nations that have suffered immensely from these consequences. We are not starving for examples either. There are plenty of them out there in the world today where categorization of a group of people through hate speech, fear, and incitement can have such unthinkable consequences.
The individuals who have called to “hang” certain people or demanded the death of certain individuals only goes to show that we have amongst us, ignorant blinkered individuals who have no understanding of the consequences and implications of their words and actions. Individuals who in fact look to nations beyond our borders not to learn to curtail them within our borders, but to promote violence/imprisonment/hanging/death-threats on their adversaries through hate speech. What is worrisome is when they see nothing wrong in doing it or think it is justified because of their cause.
While thankfully our differences and the election results have not ended in such an outcome, we are no strangers to such a situation. I come from a generation that once experienced that difficult time in our history when there was a painful atmosphere of segregation and mistrust. Our Lhotsham brothers and sisters can tell of how being labeled “Ngolop”, or being branded traitors simply for being Lhotsham or through guilt by association; because they were related to someone who plotted against the government, were made to feel in the 90’s. What is disappointing is that even after 20 years, some of us have not progressed in our thinking about the treatment of our fellow citizens.
Is this the kind of democracy that we aspire for, one in which we only have contentious elections but none of the functionalities that will help us grow and become a great nation; an example to the world; one in which, not just us as Bhutanese, but the architect of our Democracy, His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, would be proud of?
But it is not surprising that the second elections culminated in this.
We Bhutanese are still green and wet behind the ears in what it means to have a functioning democracy. It is not just we the people that are in the learning process, but so also are our governments and its members. And as we continue to embark on this process of nation-building, we should not lose sight of the fact that disrespecting the constitution, spreading fear, indulging in unethical practices for party politics and promoting corruption will not a great nation make. Instead, the unethical practices we may indulge in simply for party politics will leave the country vulnerable and exposed to those who wish to take advantage of us.
There is no ideal form of government out there, but “Democracy” with a constitutional monarchy was chosen for us. His Majesty the Fourth King when he stepped down from the throne deemed it the best form of government for the country. His Majesty the Fifth King, meanwhile, has said that it is a responsibility that each one of us should shoulder.
And how do we do this? By inculcating the democratic values within ourselves and within the system. By tolerating our differences be they racial, cultural, political, religious, or sexual. We strive to promote basic freedoms and civil liberties so that people can live free of fear.
It is at critical times like these when a nation is hurting from finger-pointing, from accusations and rumors being flung left and right; when people are unsure of the truth, that puts to test our individual characters and of who we are as Bhutanese. Because people, not just leaders, of honorable and good character work hard at building trust and nation building, not tearing it apart.