Tshering Tobgay secures victory in Bhutan elections

Bhutan’s PDP, led by Tshering Tobgay, secured victory in the parliamentary election with 30 out of 47 National Assembly seats.

In Bhutan’s recent parliamentary election, Tshering Tobgay’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) secured victory with 30 out of 47 National Assembly seats, marking his return to power amid concerns over the nation’s economic crisis. The Bhutan Tendrel Party claimed 17 seats, highlighting the nation’s commitment to its unique “Gross National Happiness” index, an alternative to GDP. This election, the fourth since Bhutan transitioned to a parliamentary system in 2008, emphasized economic growth and opportunity, aligning with both parties’ dedication to measuring success by the “happiness and wellbeing of the people.”

Tobgay, set to become prime minister for the second time, voiced alarm about Bhutan’s economic challenges and mass exodus. The PDP’s manifesto underscored the struggles, citing government statistics that revealed one in eight people faced difficulties meeting basic needs. Economic concerns took centre stage as the nation grappled with unemployment and insufficient wages.

Approximately half a million voters participated in selecting parliament members from a pool of 94 candidates presented by the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) and the PDP. The primary round in November eliminated three other parties, including the governing Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa party. Voters expressed a pressing need for economic growth and personal development, emphasizing the challenges of unemployment and inadequate salaries.

Young citizens seeking improved financial and educational opportunities have been leaving Bhutan in record numbers since the last election. Australia has become their preferred destination, with about 15,000 Bhutanese-issued visas in the 12 months before July 2022. This surge, equal to almost 2 per cent of its population, reflects the aspirations of the youth for a better future.

Nestled between China and India, Bhutan’s democratic journey began with its first free vote in 2008, following the abdication of former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The emphasis on economic challenges in this election highlights the evolving priorities of the Bhutanese people as they navigate the delicate balance between tradition and progress.

As Bhutan awaits the final declaration from the Election Commission, the incoming government faces the formidable task of addressing economic challenges and preserving the nation’s unique approach to measuring prosperity through happiness and well-being. The outcome holds significance not only for Bhutan but also as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of democracy in the Himalayan region.