Bhutan shows a way
Tiny Bhutan, six years after the transition from a monarchy to a constitutional democracy, can manage its affairs better than neighbouring Bengal if the crucial primary round of the elections to the National Assembly is any indication. More than the country/province, it is the praxis that must be of critical moment. Whereas Bengal stumbles in renewing its tryst with rural democracy, the picturesque Himalayan country has emerged as a case-study in South Asian electoral politics, even if the method doesn’t quite follow the Westminster rule-book. Quite the most striking feature is the candidate-less election, perhaps a uniquely Bhutan concept, indeed an experiment in electoral politics that may yet be an anathema to the other countries in the subcontinent. The polls are fought directly between the parties. The top two parties of the primary phase ~ the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and the People&’s Democratic Party (PDP) ~ will be eligible to contest the final round in July, with the winner entitled to select the Prime Minister. The system also precludes a multiplicity of parties in the fray and, no less crucially, the formation of electoral alliances and eventual coalitions. Small wonder that Bhutan&’s Constitution does not allow coalitions, which, if experience is any indication, generally deliver fudge and not governance.
The primary phase is remarkable not least because the people have the freedom to vote for the party of their choice and not candidates. The choice boils down to two, and the compelling factor is to elect the most suitable party that can be entrusted with governing a constitutional democracy. The determinant is governance, one that leaves no scope for politicians to feather their nests. It is an election bereft of rallies, posters, and rhetorical blather. The system is perfectly concordant with Gross National Happiness, once again a uniquely Bhutanese concept that is more intelligible and close to the bone than such jargon of obfuscation as GDP and state GDP. Unlike elsewhere in South Asia ~ India is not really an exception ~ the Bhutan model offers no scope for the tainted to throw their hat into the ring, beginning with the nomination stage. The contenders are the parties and not the candidates. Of course, it must also help that Bhutan has a population smaller than Dhanbad.