Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mock Elections in Bhutan

Last Saturday, mock elections took place in Bhutan. The fourth King of Druk Yul (as Bhutan is called by the Bhutanese), Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided a while back that Bhutan should make the transformation from kingdom to democracy. The NY Times has a piece on the mock elections that is a worth read. From the article:

“Why have politicians?” people wanted to know, expressing doubts about the results of democracy in neighboring countries. Isn’t the king always supposed to know what is best for his people and guide them accordingly?

Interacting with Bhutanese people on a daily basis, I observe that people really feel that way - above statement is not just a cliche. Further, from the same article more of the same:

This is one reason, he said, that even would-be politicians like himself find it hard to sell their message to the citizenry. “We are not starting a party because we have an ideology,” he said. “We’re not starting a party because we have a vision for a better Bhutan. We are starting a party because the king has ordered us.”

It sounds like a bad joke - the King is offering the people the installation of a democracy and the vast majority of the people strongly oppose. Not quite sure whether there is a country that was in a similar situation.

Having the democracy in Nepal in mind, many people in Bhutan are scared to make this step. It could turn out the same way in Bhutan. Talking to people, I always try to encourage them and tell them that following a democratic process is probably a good thing. I try to argue that they have been extremely furtunate with their kings and that somewhen in the distance future, there might be a different King. If such a King should really come to power, the Bhutanese people might be glad to have a democracy in place.

All in all, I like the article in the NY Times though there is one aspect that is left out. The writer of the article has obviously gone to Thimphu to observe the elections. Parts of his story seem to indicate that this whole mock election thing is a bit of a joke. Why should you have mock elections and select among parties that are indicated by colors? The author had better gone out into the country and observed the elections out there; I think it is a whole different story out there.

Picture taken from an ad in the newspaper Bhutan Observer.

Most of the lecturers from the Samtse College of Education - and many of the teachers throughout the country - have been out during the last 10 days in order to help out with the mock elections. As there is a huge number of remote villages in Bhutan, some of the lecturers had to walk for four days to reach the village where they had to conduct the mock election. No car but monkey trails instead. Leeches all over, crossing rivers without bridges. Conducting the elections in villages with villagers that still need a fair bit of education. After the election, running up the next mountain to catch a signal to transmit the result to the regional center. And after the election process, running again down the mountains to start teaching again as soon as possible. More than one lecturer at the Samtse College of Education has a sour leg. If you look at the mock elections from this perspective, performing them is a very important step on the road to democracy.

And by the way, it should not come as a surprise that Druk Yellow won the primary round of the elections; yellow is the color of the king...

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