India needs to boost efforts as Bhutan polls spring a surprise
Current PM Doesn’t Make It To Runoffs
New Delhi: As Bhutan’s election threw up a surprise result by voting out the incumbent, India will have to work doubly hard to help its closest neighbour achieve its aspirations while securing its interests.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of PM Tshering Tobgay found itself trailing at third position while a newcomer, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) surged ahead to first place, winning 92,722 votes out of 291,098 votes cast through postal ballots and EVM. The opposition Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) was a close second with 90,020 votes. The DNT and DPT will square off on October 18 for the final round, as the Bhutanese constitution allows a runoff competition between two parties.
New Delhi has not spoken yet and is unlikely to do so until the final results are declared but sources said India would work closely with whoever wins the election. Unlike in 2013, India was not a factor in the election campaigns this time, even after the Doklam issue shook both countries last year. Both the winning parties only had positive words on the India relationship. But Doklam also brought home to India that it cannot take relations with Bhutan for granted.
India has had a rocky relationship with DPT which was in government between 2008 and 2013, largely because of the then PM Jigme Thinley’s interest in building ties with China. India also goofed up by engineering a cooking gas shortage in Bhutan, hurting its own interests in the longer run. As Bhutan prepares for the final round, India is acutely aware that DPT may well score yet another upset. In the 2013 National Assembly primaries, then incumbent DPT had won 45% of the vote, with PDP at second place with 33%. However, the PDP won the final round in an upset win.
In a Facebook post after the results came in, Tshering Tobgay conceded defeat. “The people of Bhutan have spoken. And the People’s Democratic Party graciously accepts their decision. The will of the people must prevail in a democracy. I wish Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa all the best in the general election,” he said in the post.
While DNT won in 16 constituencies, DPT won in 22 this time. DPT won surprise victories in eastern Bhutan. PDP’s losses in that region may have cost it the election. DNT won the postal ballots this time, but DPT’s victory margins were higher. Therefore, the final results are still an open game next month.
DPT and PDP are slightly right of centre parties but DNT is an unknown quantity, having been formed six years ago by Lotay Tshering and two friends. The party is more left of centre in its outlook, with social issues, health and economy dominating its manifesto.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay in Kathmandu in this November 2014 photo