From anti-incumbency to failure in constituency debate, social media impact, party machinery, nation’s traditional stance to remain away from foreign influence and populist pledges were some of the major factors for PDP’s defeat in primary round of Bhutan’s parliamentary polls 2018.
Prior to the parliamentary elections, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by former Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, was considered as the strongest party as it could maintain a clean image with no reports of corruption during its 5-year term since 2013.
The PDP, which was able to revive the damaged economy of Bhutan prior to its victory in 2013 parliamentary polls, had high hope of return to power as it cut fuel price hike, electrified several rural areas, created subsidized employment generation schemes and reopened loans by resolving rupee crisis.
But like 2013, the anti-incumbency factor played a major role in the parliamentary polls this year.
Several high-profile candidates also joined the PDP but that too could not save the party from losing electoral battle this time.
The voters of Bhutan, who have experienced just 10 years of the new parliamentary system in the country, opted for a change and cleared way for the final battle of power between Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) keeping aside the PDP.
In the preliminary round of the parliamentary polls, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) secured top spot with 31.5% of the votes, followed by Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) with 30.6% votes while PDP came third with 27.2% of votes.
As per Bhutan’s constitution, only two political parties can take part in the final round of general elections, PDP, being the third, will not be able to participate in the final round of polls scheduled to be held on October 18, 2018.
PDP, which came to power in 2013 by defeating DPT led by Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, Bhutan’s first Prime Minister after being elected through parliamentary process, criticized the DPT government for its pro-China stand ignoring the age-old relationship with India.
But the people of Bhutan, particularly the elite section, could not fully support Tobgay-led PDP for its complete support towards India during the Doklam standoff as Bhutan has been maintaining a cordial relationship with both neighbouring China and India and at the same time keeping a distance from foreign influence.
This stand of the PDP on the issues of Doklam and relations with China also harmed the party in the parliamentary polls.
In the four-cornered race in September, nearly 66 pc of the electorate cast their votes a higher voter turnout than 55.3 pc in the primary round in 2013. There are 47 seats in the National Assembly of Bhutan and 24 is the magic figure.
Harvard-educated and environmentalist Tobgay’s PDP held 32 seats in the National Assembly after the 2013 elections.
The poor performance of PDP in the constituency debates, as per political observers, was also one of the strong causes of the party’s defeat in the primary round while DNT emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the debates. The well-prepared DNT overpowered both PDP and DPT in most of the debates.
PDP’s late start of the social media game also hit the party’s poll campaign. The party also miserably failed to counter the fake news circulated through incendiary posts. An overconfident PDP leadership’s lack of interest to take help of any forum to promote the party through social media cost it dearly.
Besides, it has been reported that PDP could have won the 2018 primary round race if only EVM votes were counted as the party secured the highest EVM votes (56,180) compared to the other parties (DNT – 55,166 and DPT – 53,108).
Due to regional politics, both PDP and DNT fared poorly in the East, which is identified as the stronghold of DPT. Except one seat, DPT won almost all the seats in eastern Dzongkhags (Bhutan has total 20 Dzongkhags).
It has also been observed that the PDP during its five-year tenure did not work to strengthen the organization of the party and base. Most of its MPs (PDP had 33 MPs) and coordinators reportedly ignored the party workers due to its wrong perception that the voters would vote them to power again on the basis of their performance.
PDP, despite that it implemented the 11th Plan and achieved a lot in several sectors, could not satisfy the voters during its campaign and was thrown out of power.
However, PDP keeps high hopes of return after five years as it had a graceful exit being in the third spot in the primary round of the parliamentary polls.