The Government of Bhutan successfully conducted elections to the local governments on June 27, 2011. A total of 2,185 candidates contested and 1,104 candidates were elected to the offices of Gups, Mangmis, Tshogpas, Thromde Thuemis. Overall voter turnout was recorded at 56 percent.
Democracy was instituted in Bhutan with the promulgation of the Constitution on July 18, 2008. The newly formed Government declared that local government elections would be held immediately. But the “immediately” elections to the local governments took over three years.
One of the objectives of the Druk National Congress was to introduce democracy at the grassroots level, to educate, bring awareness and ingrain in each and every citizen of the country, the policies that affects their lives. My arrest in India in 1997 restricted my “active” involvement in the grassroots democracy education and at the same time presented different priorities for my party colleagues during this period. DNC is satisfied and happy to witness the local government elections.
Prior to the elections, we have raised genuine concerns over the delimitation of the districts for the local government elections. There was an imbalanced distribution of gewogs/gups in the districts, in proportion to their size and population. For example, according to electorate statistics of 2008, Wangdue Phodrang in the west with an electorate population of 14,807 has been delimited for 15 gups/gewogs, while Samtse in the south with an electorate population of 34,958 also has 15 gups/gewogs. Trashigang in the east, with an electorate population of 29,080, has 15 gups as well. We are apprehensive that development activities in larger districts could be handicapped, if funds are allocated to districts based merely on the number of gewogs under it. Our concerns were not heeded; we but expect that the Government will address these concerns in due course of time. The Government must also review the remuneration of local leaders. They shoulder heavy responsibility and remuneration must reflect their responsibilities.
The formation of local governments is one of the important features of democratization. People at the grass root get to understand their role in a democratic society. Now, people at local level will get to know more closely of Government policies, besides their involvement in the decision making process. In spite of optimism, it could be end up being a red herring. Last three year of “democracy” warns us that decisions and policies are still initiated at top rather than bottom. Majority of the Bhutanese are still unaware of the changes taking place in polity of the country and citizens are still unable to come out of their fear-psychosis shell. To expect an overnight shift in Government policies under the prevailing situation will be naïve. I however hope that the recently elected grassroots leaders will be resolute and firm in their stand in discharging their democratic duties.
The Local Government Act stipulated that candidates must be apolitical. As of now only the elections have concluded. The real challenge lies ahead. The apolitical credentials of local leaders will be put to the test in the 2013 General Elections. There we will have our answer.
Democracy in Bhutan is young. The institutionalization of a vibrant democracy takes time. I hope the people’s whole hearty participation in democracy at the grassroots level will educate and ingrain a democratic culture in our citizens. It is however, sad that a large majority of Bhutanese exiles were not able to participate in the election. We hope it will be different in 2013.
The writer is President of Druk National Congress.