Lecturers, diplomats, broadcasters – all in Bhutan’s politics

By Syed Zarir Hussain


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Thimphu : From broadcasters and diplomats to civil servants, lecturers and retired generals, people from varied streams have started dabbling in politics as Bhutan embarks on a historic transformation from monarchy to democracy.

But despite the long list, the three political parties formed so far in the Himalayan kingdom are at their wit's end to get eligible candidates for contesting the 2008 parliamentary polls from 47 constituencies.

"To find qualified candidates for contesting the elections is definitely a challenge for all the political parties at this juncture. We are working hard and hoping for the best," Sigay Dorji, acting chairperson of the Bhutan People's Unity Party (BPUP) and a former MP, told IANS here.

Bhutan's Election Act has proposed that a candidate must have a minimum Bachelor's degree to contest the elections. Bhutan's literacy level is the lowest in South Asia – around 42 percent with just about 11,000 graduates in a country of 700,000 people.

"The bulk of the graduates are working in the civil services. If you have three to four parties in Bhutan and 47 constituencies, it means you need about 140-180 candidates. Where is the pool of candidates?" asked Gopilal Acharya, editor of the Bhutan Times, the country's only independent weekly newspaper.

Questions were being asked if those working in cushy posts in the civil services would like to take a risk in politics – the contours of which are very hazy now.

The three parties formed so far are – the BPUP, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhutan National Party (BNP). A fourth is in the pipeline.

Mingbo Dukpa, former managing director of the government-controlled Bhutan Broadcasting Service, recently resigned to join the newly formed PDP.

"I would be getting a chance to serve and work closely with the people at the grass-roots level by joining politics," said Dukpa.

The transformation from monarchy to democracy is the culmination of a plan by former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who handed his crown to his young Oxford-educated son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in December, to change with the times and relinquish absolute rule.

"At a time when not too many people are coming forward to join politics, senior officials who have served the country for a long time should come forward to participate in politics," said Dasho Jigme Tshultim, Bhutan's ambassador to Bangladesh.

Tshultim, who is also Bhutan's non-resident ambassador to Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and South Korea, has since resigned and awaiting his papers to be accepted before he formally joins the BPUP.

The rather slow pace of political activities in Bhutan has led to serious concerns with the Election Commission worried in the run-up to the first general election.

"There is urgency for more individuals to come forward and take up the responsibility of serving the nation through formation of political parties," stressed Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, Bhutan's chief election commissioner.

"We are now trying to get qualified candidates who are likely to have the trust and confidence of the people," said Tshering Tobgay, leader of the PDP.

Norbu Wangchuck, a management graduate from India before becoming a lecturer at the Royal Institute of Management in Bhutan, is upbeat about joining politics.

"I feel I have an obligation to my country to offer a choice of leadership," said Norbu, also known among his friends as 'Mike Tyson' for his tight-fisted attitude.

"Many people have the misconception that I would not let out any money easily. But I think it is an asset. I will be more frugal with public resources and my own resources."