Shower of promises

This day next week, the people of Bhutan would have given their verdict. Two political parties will bow out of the race while the two winning parties will hit the campaign trail once more. But before the next government is formed, expect one more season of promises and pledges.vote2

Loathe it or love it, politicians are going to come knocking at the door with their bouquet of promises and a long list of ‘will dos’. We have had quite bit of it this campaign period leading to the primary round – helicopters, blacktopped farm roads, jobs for all, blah blah blah.

In the last one month of the campaign period, the parties have pampered us with so much promises that suddenly from the sidelines people have taken the center spot. They have become the immediate focus. Every public speech or debate has people and their interest as the ubiquitous theme running all through,

The lofty promises they are skillfully marketing to the people may be or may not be fulfilled. Only time will tell. In fact, some of their promises are too bold and daring. And at times a little too unrealistic given the difficult times we are wading through at present.

It’s easy to make promises, difficult to keep it. However, so long as political parties know what it will take to keep those promises, it’s totally fine to let them talk the talk. After all, electioneering is about putting on the table what they have to offer. People will make the pick.

The beauty of all this, minus political maneuvering and mudslinging which has been going around, is that people will have the final say. Even if for a fleeting moment during the electioneering time, politicians bow down to the people in obeisance. That’s a dramatic role reversal of some kind, isn’t it? People become the real masters. They call the shots.

That’s how democracy is craftily designed to give the ultimate power to the people to choose the government. So it is important why people must choose and vote wisely. As clichéd as it may sound and at the risk of sounding like a politician, it is still worth saying that people must vote for the right party.

And what is a right party? A party that truly represents the people. One that will serve them and not their own vested political interest. A party that will take the country forward.

Political parties will go to any length to win votes, selling hopes and dreams that may not be practically or humanely possible. That’s why you must vote so that right party gets to form the government and the wrong parties are voted out!

It’s in your hand or rather your finger. Press the button. Vote!

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Here begins the campaign!

A television reporter asked an old woman in eastern Bhutan about her feelings about candidates of different political parties swarming like bees in her village. Taken aback, lost for words, the woman replied, in a sing-song tone: “Aai taa yong khey na na (We are getting scared).”-political-campaign

In another incident, a smartly dressed man in his thirties, probably a political candidate, visited people of a remote hamlet in southern Bhutan, accompanied by gaggle of party workers. He introduced himself first, and with an aura of preeminence, declared: “Teme haru koh ghar jalai dintsho moi ley (I will burn down your houses).”

The people listening to him were baffled, wondering why this man wants to destroy their old dilapidated huts. It’s only after a few conversations back and forth that people in the village realized he meant was “electrifying their homes”.

Call it sheer naivety or height of miscommunication, this is what is happening in some rural places across the country. Politicking and campaign have begun in earnest. And some of our rural folks are getting visitors who are almost alien to them.

For the time being, it’s candidates and parties that are in a rush against time – in a rush to entice maximum hearts and in a rush to woo maximum voters. All that they know is that they have limited time at their disposal.

The contestants are aware as well and even party presidents are leaving no stone unturned to cover as much districts as they can. Candidates are touring their constituencies, travelling to places that they have never been so far, and attending the common forum debates when not traveling.

While the good and bad aspects of politicking cannot be ruled out, what is pivotal here is in maintaining political decency. The word doing the round is that party workers are going all out to woo voters, and in so doing, they are getting carried away. Such politics of ‘either you are with us or against us’ can spell disharmony in a small society of ours.

We are a young democracy, grappling with new ideas and political process. Politics is an inevitable part of the democratic process. We can’t help it. But what we can, is how we choose to conduct ourselves in politics, adhering to the highest ethical standards. And the onus of keeping politics clean falls on the parties, candidates, election officials and regulators, and even voters themselves.

Most importantly, what we should keep in mind is the larger picture – democracy. At the end, all of us must strive to build a strong foundation for democracy, and ensure that it can be sustained through generations to come. And it would be determined by how each one of us are playing our roles today – as candidates, party workers, and voters. That’s what it matters!

Feigned desire doesn’t suffice

Perhaps, it may sound clichéd to reiterate the pivotal role of media in a democracy. Belle mellor illustration

Ask any Tom, Dick and Harry to deliberate on media and democracy, many would end up drawing a nexus between the two – how one is important for the success or fruition of another; unfortunately without much deeper understanding of the real correlation. Piteous, but true in all aspect.

Seriously, we need to do more than sticking to this mere rhetoric or exhortation if we are serious, as we show to be, towards media development in the country. Rhetoric and feigned desire will not help the country’s indisposed media.

What is apparent now is media, especially the private ones, have their necks deep under water and are fighting the arduous battle waged against them – from government ministries and agencies to media’s own regulatory body, the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA).

Notwithstanding, for a change, it was affirming to hear the Vice President of the People’s Democratic Party Damcho Dorji, at the second political parties’ debate for the 2013 elections Friday, calling for pragmatic efforts from the government to support the private media and not just lip service, and how existence of media, that are majorly government-owned, could spell doom for country’s democracy in the future.

Indubitably, such a scenario may not materialize at the moment but we cannot rule out such possibility either.

The fact of the matter is that it’s not a good time for most media houses in the country. While the government has severed its advertisement budget on one side, BICMA, which is supposed to be a media regulatory body, on the other is bent on stifling the already sick private media houses.

Perhaps, ignorant of how media functions in a society, BICMA’s present role has revolved around handing over authoritative and high-handed letters to media in Bhutan. While also evoking doubts whether it is abreast of the present media scenario, it is also perhaps one of the only media organizations that has never have had close interaction with the media hitherto. And we don’t see it happening any sooner either.

Even some media professionals, the new as well as the old, are oblivious as well on how BICMA carries out its responsibilities; duties as an organization which is supposed to facilitate the media by delving into their problem, as an organization which is supposed to strengthen the fourth arm of the government.

It’ just the contrary that is happening now. And for the time being, we could only contemplate what the first Chief-Editor of Bhutan Times wrote in its editorial almost six years back, on May 20, 2007, that, “…….That if there is anyone who will kill media in Bhutan, it will be BICMA”.