Saturday, October 20, 2018

Bhutan election, 2018

Little Bhutan went to the polls earlier this month. The small kingdom is sandwiched between India and China, and is near to both Nepal and Bangladesh, with both being under 100KM across the Indian border from Bhutan. (Click here for a link to Google Maps)

It is an interesting country. In 2016 the sitting Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, gave a Ted Talk, about how the country is carbon negative. The country also judges itself by its "Gross National Happiness"

In terms of electoral politics, the modern history began on December 9th 2006, when Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck rose to the throne of the absolute monarchy. With Totalitarian power, the King could have taken Bhutan in any direction he wanted, and he did just that; by implementing a Democratic system, and an elected Parliament.

In 2008, Bhutan held its first ever election, using a unique voting system. This system was trialed in a mock nationwide election in 2007, to help voters understand how "voting" would work. In the 2007 mock election, the government put forward 4 mock parties.

In order to simplify things, I will not directly translate the names of the parties, but instead, name them based on the mock policies each party supported.

In the first round of voting, the results were as follows:

44.3% - Tradition Party
20.4% - Progress Party
20.3% - Accountability Party
15.0% - Environment Party

Where things get unique is what happens next.

Only the top two parties go on to the second around, and anything else that happened in the first round is simply discounted.

Next, in each of the 47 constituencies (I will use the Canadian term "riding" but beware that this is not used outside Canada) each of the two parties puts up their candidates, and voters choose between the two.

The results of the mock election were 46 seats to the Tradition Party, and 1 to the Progress Party.

2008 saw the first real election.

The BNP, a pro-business party, was disqualified from running. "Why" is not exactly clear, but it seems they did fully and properly not register in time. In order to qualify a party must not only follow the standard procedures found in any random western democracy, but also must have a certain share of their party membership be university graduates, and only those with various degrees may run for office. Not unreasonable for a brand new democracy. As such 2008 only saw two parties, and thus, did not have the first round of voting. The second round result was as follows:

67% - DPT - 45 seats (Conservative)
33% - PDP - 2 seats (Liberal and Royalist)

There were some accusations of civil servants pushing for a DPT victory, but things were mostly calm. DPT leader, Jigme Thinley thus became Prime Minister.

2013 saw the second election.

Joining the two existing parties was the DNT, and DCT. Both left-wing parties, the DNT could be described as somewhat "social democratic" while the DCT was in some ways "socialist". First round results were as follows:

44.5% DPT (Conservative) [Incumbent]
32.5% PDP (Liberal and Royalist)
17.1% DNT (Social Democratic?)
5.9% DCT (Socialist?)

As such the two parties already holding seats, DPT and PDP, progressed to the second around.

The second around saw the following:

54.9% PDP 32 seats (Liberal and Royalist)
45.1% DPT 15 seats (Conservative) [Incumbent]

As such Bhutan defeated its first government and elected a replacement. Tshering Tobgay thus became Prime Minister.

This brings us to 2018 and the most recent elections.

In September, the first round of elections was held. A new party was running, BKP, which some have implied is downright Communist. The party is lead by a woman, rare in a country with only three female MPs.

The first round was a shocker to many.

DNT - 31.9% (Social Democratic?)
DPT - 30.9% (Conservative)
PDP - 27.4% (Liberal and Royalist) [Incumbent]
BKP - 9.8% (Communist??)

As such the governing PDP would not even advance to the second around.

This past Thursday (October 18th) the second round was held and produced the following result:

DNT - 30 (Social Democratic?)
DPT - 17 (Conservative)

Popular vote figures are not tallied yet (I may do this myself as its only 47 seats) but the margin of victory in the seats suggests a similar 55-45 vote split as in the previous election.

It is not all rainbows and roses for Bhutan however. Even though there are parties with policies that might be seen as "Communist", they would not dare say so in public, for "Communist" parties are banned in Bhutan. In large part because of their support among the ethnic Nepalese community within Bhutan, who have faced widespread and outright ethnic cleansing from the Bhutanese government.

Regardless, Bhutan is progressing more and more towards a free society, and is growing economically. It will be interesting to see how the new government deals with the issues that confront Bhutan.

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