The Bhutan vote

As the country prepares for the secondround of elections, change is certain The results of Bhutan’s general election will have significant repercussions for South Asia. The first round held in September has already delivered a surprise verdict, with the ousting of the incumbent People’s Democratic Party. The two parties left in the fray represent opposites in terms of their experience. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, that won the maximum number of votes in the first round this year, is a political neophyte. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, on the other hand, won the first Bhutanese elections in 2008, and the first round of the election in 2013 before losing to the PDP. It maintains a strong traditional base. The first round of the results also threw up some glaring trends. While the ordinary voter who queued up to vote at the polling booths favoured the PDP, ultimately the postal ballots, used by government officials and their families as well as military personnel, swung the vote in the other direction. Another outcome, which may be disquieting for whichever party comes to power, is that votes in the first round of elections were polarised between more prosperous Western Bhutan and less developed Eastern Bhutan. The DPT, for example, won all but one constituency in the east, while winning only two in the west; the DNT and PDP won seats only in the western half. The vertical split doesn’t just denote a development divide, it points to a feeling of discontent in a country generally known as a whole for its Gross National Happiness quotient. Regardless of which party wins on Thursday, India-Bhutan ties are expected to be accorded their customary priority by New Delhi and Thimphu, given that Bhutan’s monarch, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, retains a considerable influence over the nation’s foreign policy. Along with his father, and predecessor as king, he has consistently stressed his commitment to the bilateral relationship. However, India must note that while the DNT has made “narrowing the gap” its motto, the DPT, which lost elections in 2013 after India suddenly pulled fuel subsidies for Bhutan, has campaigned on the slogan of “sovereignty and self-sufficiency”. The ‘China factor’ will be closely watched for its impact, a year after the India-China standoff on the Bhutanese Doklam plateau. This year marks the 50th anniversary of formal relations between India and Bhutan, built on cultural ties, mutual strategic interests, and India’s role in building roads and assisting in hydropower projects that became the mainstay of the Bhutanese economy. It is expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lose no time in visiting Bhutan to consolidate the relationship once the new Prime Minister is in the saddle.

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