Bhutan poll results concern for Delhi

The steady strides that Bhutan is taking to establish itself as a democracy deserves applause. The country voted in the first round of its third general elections on September 15, and nearly 66% of the electorate showed up to exercise their franchise. This is significantly higher than the 55% that voted in the first round of the 2013 general elections. Bhutan’s democracy is just 10 years old. In this period, democracy has not only taken root but it appears to be flowering in this Himalayan kingdom. The number of political parties has grown. Importantly, the people are using their vote to bring about change. They have voted parties out of power. While it was the monarchy that initiated change in Bhutan a decade ago — the kingdom’s transformation from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one was a top-down process — but increasingly, it is the masses who are driving change. At the just-concluded first round of the general election, voters defeated the ruling People’s Democratic Party. Thus, it will not contest the final round in a month from now.

New Delhi will be concerned by the preliminary result. The PDP government and India stood firmly together to take on China during the Doklam crisis last year. Its ouster will inject a measure of uncertainty in Delhi’s relations with the new government. The final round will see the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) locking horns with the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). While the DNT’s foreign policy preferences are unclear, the DPT is known to have favoured diplomatic relations with China when it was in power between 2008 and 2013. In 2013, DPT leader and Bhutan’s then prime minister Jigme Thinley even engaged in secret talks with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao at Rio. That annoyed Delhi, as the meeting seemed aimed at Bhutan establishing formal diplomatic relations with China. In the subsequent general elections, the DPT was defeated; an outcome that was widely attributed to Delhi’s withdrawal of fuel subsidies to Bhutan just ahead of the final round of elections.

India and China are engaged in a tussle for influence in Bhutan, which has intensified following the standoff between the armed forces of the two countries at Doklam. And while Delhi’s apprehensions are understandable, it must resist the temptation to meddle in Bhutan’s elections as that will set off an avalanche of anti-India sentiment in the country. India should build strong ties with whichever party comes to power and should clarify ahead that it respects the democratic choices of the Bhutanese people. Backing one party or another in the final round could prove counterproductive to India’s interests in Bhutan.

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Bhutan poll results concern for Delhi

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