The timing factor

A stitch in time saves nine. An early bird catches the worm. Start early, reach early. And many more! We have all incessantly heard about these maxims, basically conveying wisdom on the importance of time, numerous times and on many occasions. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to contemplate how timing could be a decisive factor in determining the outcome of an election in the wake of concern among certain quarters that the three new political parties are far behind for the 2013 elections race.

Although the campaign and election dates are yet to be finalized, one thing is certain that three elections (with the primary round) have to be conducted within a span of six months and a new assembly formed by somewhere in July. Therefore, one of the major concerns is whether the three new parties will have adequate time for campaigning and elucidate the rural mass of its existence in some of the remote pockets in the country.

The new parties, some say, are still struggling and arduously looking for winnable candidates, while few maintained that the late start could actually be the new parties undoing in the primary round.

A voter looks for his candidate
A voter looks for his candidate

However, even new political parties are aware that old parties had plenty of time to campaign in the last elections. And we cannot help but agree to the fact that it would have been ideal for the new parties to have more time, just like what the president of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa reiterated.

Indubitably, it would be difficult for new parties to reach to the people of all 20 districts in the country in a short period of time.  Further, aggravating the task are factors like their locations in rugged terrain and absence of road accessibility. Even if these factors could be dodged, it would be very unfortunate if what politicians call the ‘campaign’ or ‘consultation’ time coincides with spring, a time when farmers would have started work in their fields.

Therefore, the new parties registering late, it is contended, would be an advantage to the two old parties – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The erstwhile parties literally deserve no introduction. They entered the political arena early in 2007, months before the 2008 elections and have been vivid in public memory since then. They also had adequate time to tour some of the remote places in the country and interact with its people in 2008.

The incumbent MPs of the ruling government have, meanwhile, been touring their constituencies and keeping in touch with the people. Similarly, PDP has also maintained to keep its identity vivid in the minds of the public. However, the same cannot be said for the new parties, at least for now.

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Rural prosperity conundrum

A few months from now, we will perhaps witness rigorous and unrelenting attempts from the three new political parties, as well as the old ones, of what they would do if elected to power in the next elections.

How the parties will purport or what it would promise the electorates during the upcoming election campaigns, nonetheless, will have a pivotal bearing on the results of the next elections. However, we can be sure of one thing that what parties and candidates would pledge to do would not be anything different from what is already there in the 11th Plan.

The draft 11th five-year-plan is expected to be ready anytime soon and it’s targeted keeping in the mind the timing when candidates would be in the field campaigning.

Therefore, in consonance with ‘Rural Prosperity’, which is the main thrust of the 11th Plan, what we can be sure of is that almost all parties or candidates would be basically explaining about the activities and developments that would be taken or are there in the plan for rural prosperity.

It won’t be surprising if we are told that more farm roads would be built, more basic health units would be opened up, and that people will have access to market, clean drinking water supply, electricity for every home, and cellular connectivity for every community; basically all amenities and infrastructure that would reduce rural drudgery and attract people back to their villages.

But how far this would materialize is yet to be seen. If the recent trends are any indication, of a sort contrary seems to be happening.

A village in Samtse
A village in Samtse

Firstly, we are grappling with rural- urban migration. It has been continuing unabatedly; to an extent that we are now even witnessing signs of urban poverty in some urban towns.

Not only an increasing number of people are flocking to urban areas, but increasing chunks of farmlands are also left fallow and some rural people have even abandoned their ancestral land and home.

Further, wild animals depredation is another big problem. It’s becoming rampant every year and coercing farmers to abandon farming in totality. Their hard works are lost to wild animals, thus leaving some farmers barely anything to thrive on after having had toiled in the farms from dawn till dusk.

Therefore, achieving rural prosperity or to enliven rural areas would be a mammoth challenge, but it would be worth our endeavor even if we achieve a fragment of it.

But we need to also understand that taking better amenities and infrastructure to rural areas alone wouldn’t suffice. The drift to urban towns would continue because more jobs are created here. We need to take employment opportunities in rural areas if we are serious in our pursuit. And the important thing is to keep working towards it.

 

 

 

Are our children learning right?

While debates are rife – whether the quality of education in the country is on the wane, another significant setback in the schooling system was raised by educationists last week who had gathered for the Annual Education Conference in Phuentsholing.

Educationists asseverated that the education ministry should refine curriculum and check the contents of textbooks meant for school students, divulging out several flaws between syllabus and school textbooks.

For example, topics or chapters on certain issue, which are there in the syllabus, aren’t there in the textbooks. Similarly, high school students and teachers had to refer four different textbooks in the absence of a single integrated biology textbook.

Further, difference in the standard of language in two consecutive classes was another problem. It was just not teachers, but students confronted problems as well with this sudden shift, thus making learning even more arduous.dorokha 065

The issues, therefore, raise several questions. It even makes us wonder whether our children are learning right. And are they in the present scenario where the type of schooling or textbooks is as old as time itself?

There is just too many a problem going by what educationists voiced out during the congregation. Education, therefore, has to be made timely and socially relevant, and child-centric to serve its purpose, but has our school curriculum even been put through that perspective? Definitely not! High school students still read about rubber cultivation in Malaysia or the cocoa cultivation in Ghana. Therefore, there is a need to re-create syllabus that are not only timely, but also dynamic.

The huge mismatch between syllabus and textbooks is not something new. The same issue has been resurfacing time and again in the media, but nothing is being done to solve this problem. The feign desire to set things right whimpers away, it seems, once the conference concludes.

We envision of becoming a knowledge hub and an IT-enabled society, the works for which are still in progress such as the Education City Project and IT Park. Then there is our unrelenting effort to connect all 205 gewog centers through fiber optics connection. Unquestionably, we are up for technological advancement. We don’t want to be obsolete anymore. But are we heading there? Are we when the young minds of the future are using obsolete IT textbooks and syllabus? They still use textbooks meant for Windows 98 and 2000.

Thus, if our graduates are finding it grueling to find employment today or labeled as incompetent in the job market, these problems are partly to be blamed for as well for this predicament. Only if the roots are strong, a seedling can grow into a tree. The least we can do is resolve these issues and tune in to the present realities.

 

 

More the merrier

The adage – ‘More the merrier’ – could best sum up the developments taking place in politics right now with the two new parties, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), successfully receiving the certificate of registration as political party from the Election Commission of Bhutan last week.

With the two new parties and another aspiring party, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa which is up, awaiting a similar fate, it is obvious that there will be primary round election this year. This was something voters didn’t get to experience in the 2008 elections as there were just two parties.

Some political pundits, therefore, argue that it wasn’t a complete democratic process then because of the absence of primary round election. However, the 2013 elections would be new and a different experience for voters as well altogether.

But new political parties deserve applauses too. Firstly, for getting legal recognition as political party and secondly, for expanding political options for our voters, thus ultimately helping to the flourishing of democracy. More the number of parties, more choices for voters to chose from.

The political journey of the new parties may have begun, but it’s only the first hurdle they have managed to cross over for now. Times will obviously not be any easier from now onwards. Garnering adequate candidates from a limited pool of political candidates is still a challenge they need to overcome. Some parties, going by the developments now, are still desperately searching for candidates.

And even if it isn’t a big problem, the other mammoth task would be what the new parties have predominantly been engrossed for quite some time- finding a party president who many presume would be the decisive element in the 2013 elections.

The search is only made daunting by the limited number of eligible candidates and the subsequent dearth of people with experience of serving at a ministerial level, especially a prime minister material. For now, only the DCT has a party president among the new parties.

Collection and disbursement of funds would be another challenge for the new parties. While new parties envision having party machineries in all 20 districts, some political parties seem lost for answer in how they plan to take this forward; thus also evoking question on their financial comfortableness.

Further, how new parties would convince voters is another arduous task as there is still this unanimous sensing among people that the ruling party will somehow win the next elections as well. The reason, some political observers contend, is that some new parties are still weak and that they don’t offer people strong alternative.

Thus, the new parties have a mammoth task up their sleeves. They need to buckle up if they are really serious about their political pursuit. The time is now.

Finding the worthy

The business community members of Haa don’t appear to be in a pleasing mood. Their representatives have once again reiterated the same old issue that they say has been plaguing them at the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI)’s annual general meeting few weeks back in Thimphu.

Their main anger and frustration – IMTRAT’s Canteen Stores Department (CSD) eating into their business- was palpable going by their representatives’ arguments.

They say customers bought goods from the CSD instead from local shops given that goods sold by the former were sales tax exempted. Further, the assemblage was apprised that goods sold there were almost 50% cheaper than those available in Haa’s main town.

It has been two years now that these business representatives have been voicing out this issue? And at times, even worth wondering why the voices are louder now? The IMTRAT’s CSD in Haa has been there for more than a few decades. But why wasn’t the issue raised earlier if it was really subverting businesses for the local businessmen? Why the intervention for measures now?

While it was about restricting access of civilians to CSD two years back, Haa business representatives this time want the chamber to approach the government for a possible business sales tax exemption in the district.haa main

The chamber has shown concern about the growth of retail sector in Haa and has also assured to put up the issue in the next meeting, but more needs to be done than the chamber merely approaching the government.

Does it really merit that the whole businesses in the district should be exempted of business sales tax because of a CSD? Are businesses really losing that a sales tax exemption is inevitable? And are prices in the CSD really lower than half the price in the main town?

More studies, particularly how businesses are faring in the area, needs to be done if the problems are as grave as it is shown to be. And how putting a store out of reach from customers will really bring benefits there?

The modus operandi of such stores is different. It’s not only Haa which has a CSD. They are present elsewhere in most of the districts across the country. While it’s meant for army personnel and ex-servicemen, but locals have benefited too as well. For examples, farmers in a place like Yonphula have been spared the trouble of going all the way to Trashigang. Similarly, residents with such stores in the vicinity have benefitted as well.

However, in Haa’s case, there seems to be more than what meets the eye behind business community members’ discontentment. But the dilemma here is over choosing between local people and a handful of business owners. And why isn’t it not worthy if a majority of local people are benefitting?

 

Going to the polls

Politicking has earnestly begun. Besides the two old parties, three new parties have emerged to contest in the 2013 elections and have presently applied for registration with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).Bhutanese citizens queue to cast their v

A majority of the candidates are also being roped in by parties, with some even having had garnered more than half of the required candidates. Similarly, even candidates vying for a seat in the upper house, the National Council, are declaring their political interest through the media.

It’s an arduous time for the ECB as well, as it’s up a mammoth task, reviewing documents filed in by new parties, scrutinizing party candidates, and devising better strategies to ensure that 2013 elections are ‘free and fair’ as well.

Political parties – old or new, political candidates and all democratic institutions are full of activity for now. Everyone seems to be engrossed in the task and responsibility of ensuring Bhutan’s transition to democracy.

But what about us? Indubitably, we have responsibility too and the onus to ensure Bhutan’s democratic success as well. We have to make use of the precious privilege and power bestowed on us from the Golden Throne. And this can be done only by playing our part in the democratic process – by going to the polls.

The Royal Address of His Majesty the King on the 105th National Day last week also underlines the importance of Bhutan’s democratic transition and the people’s pivotal role in it. His Majesty has urged all people to exercise our right to vote by saying, “It comes but once in five years – for it is an act of great benefit to the Nation.”

“Today, the most important duty for us is the upcoming 2013 Parliament elections. I would like to say that we- all of us – are new to this democratic transition. We have all equally acquired four and a half years of experience in democracy. Experience comes with participation, so I urge you all to come forward as candidates, members of parties and voters for 2013.”

The Royal Address has many important messages as well for us to contemplate. All of us need to come together if we are to pave Bhutan’s successful transition to democracy.

And unquestionably, His Majesty has once again put up the aspirations of people on a higher pedestal by stressing that achieving democracy is not the ultimate goal and that democracy must be able to fulfill the aspirations of our people.

While it’s just a good start in our transition to democracy, much more still remains to be done, just like what His Majesty had told us. And for now, whether it’s good or bad times in the future, it’s on us. It will be determined by whether we are ready to go to the polls now.