In an e-mail interview, PDP president and Prime Minister-elect Tshering Tobgay told Chander Suta Dogra after the party’s recent win in the Bhutan election, that the democratically mature electorate had voted for change and held the previous government accountable for its term in office. Excerpts:
How has democracy changed Bhutan?
Unlike other countries, democracy in Bhutan emanated from the throne. The process of democratisation of Bhutan, again spearheaded by our kings, has also been a gradual process starting in the 1950s and culminating in the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy in 2008. Bhutanese were thus spared any major disruption normally associated with a change in political system. And with democratic governance in place well before 2008, when we actually became a constitutional democracy in 2008, most Bhutanese did not perceive major change in their lives. On the political front however there have been changes arising out of the natural processes of democracy. There is far more public debate on both national and local issues. Our people have also become more politicised, and there is a tendency for the people to become polarised along party lines in the run-up to elections.
Your party, the PDP, has come to power in Bhutan on the issue of furthering Indo-Bhutan friendship. How will your approach be different from the previous government?
India and Bhutan enjoy a very close relationship based on a common cultural and spiritual heritage, mutual interests, trust and friendship. The excellent relations we enjoy today are the fruits born out of the labour over the last five decades of far-sighted leaders in India, and enlightened kings in Bhutan.
My government would like to build on these achievements of the past. Our approach will be to deepen the understanding and goodwill existing between our two nations, so that we can move forward together with total trust and confidence in each other.
With the fall of the [Indian] rupee and Bhutan’s burgeoning import crisis, there is a debate on the advisability of being overdependent on India. Your thoughts?
Bhutan is actually facing a serious current account deficit particularly in its trade with India. My party established a task force even before the elections to look into pressing economic concerns including this issue. I expect that their recommendations will be available shortly after the new government is formed. With respect to overdependence on India, all nations in this globalised world lead a highly interdependent existence. The real challenge for any nation in the long run is to become self-reliant, as opposed to self-sufficient, and diversify its economy so that it is protected against market shocks that can topple an economy overly dependent on one or two sectors.
During the election campaign you had said that if elected, on your first visit to India, you would ask the Indian government for Rs.3 billion worth of aid to rejuvenate the Bhutanese economy. How do you think the Indian government will respond?
As our closest friend and ally, I am confident that the Government of India will respond favourably. The people of Bhutan are immensely grateful for the friendship and assistance we have received from the Government and People of India over the decades.
From having just two seats in the last national assembly, your party has won a stupendous 32 seats this time. What according to you has been the single most important reason for this sweep?
My party campaigned on a platform of change — a move away from the business-as-usual approach that had come to characterise the previous government. This resonated well with the people. I would also add that in a healthy sign for democracy in Bhutan, the electorate held incumbents accountable for their acts of omission or commission while in office.
During the election campaign, you had criticised the ruling party for using Gross National Happiness as a slogan directed at international audiences rather than a means to deliver concrete benefits for the people of Bhutan. How is your idea of GNH different from the DPT?
GNH is a development philosophy articulated and adopted in Bhutan by our Fourth King in the early 1970s. It emphasises the importance of holistic development as opposed to a nation’s progress being measured narrowly in terms of economic growth. Our party fully subscribes to GNH, but as mentioned in your question, we are of the view that discussion and well-meaning pronouncements cannot substitute actual work on the ground.
Corruption emerged as a major election issue during this election. What will be the guiding principles for your government on this sensitive issue?
The guiding principles will be transparency and accountability in government decisions and actions. My party is committed to strengthening the constitutional bodies charged with fighting corruption including the anticorruption commission, royal audit authority, and the judiciary. We are also prepared to pass a Right to Information Act to provide the tools for people to exercise their constitutional right to information. Moreover, my government will support a vibrant and free media that can play an important role in curbing corruption.