The game behind the curtain
The recently concluded Local Government (LG) Election has been widely applauded by the Bhutanese authority and the media alike. Ultimately, it was the turn of the so-called architect of the Bhutanese democracy – who is none other than the Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan. As was anticipated exactly, the King cleverly over-rode the Prime Minister and called the Gup elects to Thimphu all the way from different districts only to show the international community that the King gives all the directions to all parts of the government machinery. It, thus, makes the Prime Minister free of any responsibility because if the Gups were to be felicitated, it should have been done by the Prime Minister or the Home Minister, and not at all by the King. However, the democratic constitution of Bhutan has given the special prerogative under Article 2(16) (e) to the King to do anything, which is not mentioned in the constitution.
In a much hectic way, King appointed the Gups with traditional “dhar” and “kabney” awarding system, where 190 out of 205 Gup elects and yet to be elected were present in the ceremony. However, the unfortunate Gups from 15 gewogs could not participate in this program of historical importance. Ironically, not the people but the royal regime could not find appropriate Gup candidates for three gewogs that included Goenshari in Punakha, Bjacho gewog in Chukha and Gongdue gewog in Mongar. People from Talo in Punakha could not elect Gup for their gewog after the result ended in a draw, while 11 Gup elects have been facing court cases, not because of any fraud or foul play but because the election commission is not sure about their loyalty to the palace democracy.
The much-hyped LG Election is now completed, which is claimed to be held in the “best satisfaction”, where the King expressed his gratefulness to the Election Commission of Bhutan, all civil servants, teachers and armed forces, and the dratshang. “With your hard work and prayers, we have conducted the historic first local government elections under democracy,” said the King. The so-called young democracy headed by the King with the Prime Minister behind the steering wheel is extremely careful to hold all the elections apolitically. It is because the palace gifted democracy cannot accommodate the civil supremacy in the democracy, which is claimed to be functioning under the farsighted leadership of “His Majesty”.
As rightly quoted by the “Kuensel”, which reads, “Gups are important, as they deal with people every day, and know the needs of the people well”, as having said by the King. The jest is that it is only the King who knows how important the Gups are because they are elected apolitically to keep the palace democracy safe and sound. If anything goes political in democracy, it will be against the feudal system. It could expose the corruption of the authority, because the true democracy demands people’s participation in the policy-making, transparency and accountability in the administrations. Hence, this is the first of its kind in the so-called democracy of Bhutan that the Gups are awarded the Kabney by the King. With this trend, it will not be surprising in the Bhutanese democracy, for the King to go to the extent of presenting “dhar” even to the “Chiwog elects”, because King wants to ensure democracy for the palace and not necessarily for the people, who truly aspired for.
To quote the “Kuensel” here again, it reads, “Democracy, His Majesty said, was a carefully planned process by the fourth Druk Gyalpo, with the establishment of dzongkhag yargay tshogdus way back in 1980, and gewog yargay tshogchungs in 1990” in order to ensure that within the camouflage of democracy, the feudal power will continue to be reined with the hereditary monarchy. The King, maintaining the auspicious awarding of “…the kabney and dhar for the first time from the throne as a symbol of independence and importance…” is but binding them under the spiritual charm of the King to carry out their responsibility for the people according to the wish of the palace and not in accordance to the expectations of the people. It also does not give the recognition to the establishment of the National Assembly in 1953 by the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The objective of the formation of the National Assembly though unicameral in nature, was also projected as a step forward towards democratization in the system of governance.
As a bona-fide citizen of my country, it is pertinent to exercise my rights to express what I have in my perceptions. In a true democracy, Gup as the person of people’s mandate has to be political being elected by the people, otherwise, there is no meaning to the exercise of election if the Gups are considered apolitical. Being apolitical and heading the Gewog Tshogchung as its chairman would be again a blunder as the people’s expectations will not be fulfilled in view of his decisions as the chairman performing on the orchestration of the throne. The King’s personal visit on foot to the villages and meeting the people instead of reaching well maintained motor vehicular roads to garner confidence and support and on the other hand, awarding dhar and kabney from the throne is nothing but a grand design of gimmick, which the people of Bhutan have started understanding gradually now. It is the fear psychosis that is implanted into the traditional ethos of the Bhutanese society that no one can dare to spit any word against the functioning of the palace mechanism.
The official mouthpiece until recently, the Kuensel editorial even expressed their concern in terms of heavy costing incurred in the process of election – quote: “but the impression going around is that it cost a lot more than it should” because of its delay by more than a month in view of “the issues of disqualification of candidates, who were former members of the two existing parties”. It is apparently interpreted in the editorial that “a lot of funds also went into the printing of hundreds and thousands of voter photo identity cards (VPIC), which many did not collect”. The concern is, “why people can’t use their citizenship identity cards, after all the ID is proof enough of being a citizen, and therefore a right to vote”. Further, “a large section of the population not being eligible to postal ballots has hampered electoral participation,” added the editorial.
I hope the Bhutanese people of 21st century will come out openly and boldly, and elect their representatives within the framework of the best political ideology adopted by them. In line with the buttery words of our fourth King and traditionally followed by the fifth King, Bhutan is unique in all its characteristics that goes to the extent of continuing the grandest of the designs to technically and most cleverly enslaving the people in the name of democracy that has not yet emerged out of its eggshell. If the people are given the real freedom to exercise their skills and enthusiasm into democratic practicality, Bhutanese people with modern education supported by the growing expertise in the scientific thinking, given the advantages of geo-physical conditions and guided by the global democratic values, have the potentials to significantly manifest the truest form of democracy, which serves the nation and fulfill the aspirations of the people to the highest standard of integrity.
The author is Vice President of the Druk National Congress (Democratic).