The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Party loyalties switch full swing in Gelephu on issue of NOC

January 15, 2008-Gelephu: With alleged smear-campaigns and fear-campaigns from both party camps on an all time high, politics-as-usual is back in Gelephu. Of late, the limelight is on party loyalists who are switching sides.
Ugyen Lodey, who was a PDP supporter, told BT that the storm over the candidate selection made him switch his loyalty toward DPT.
“I was not happy with the strategies used by DPT party workers,” said Ngawang who now swears by PDP.
Savitri Gurung, the Sarpang DPT coordinator alleged that promises of roads, schools and medical facilities made by PDP have pulled some to the opposite camp.
“In fact many from the other party have also come to join us,” she said.
Meanwhile, the PDP southern regional coordinator T.P. Humagai accused that DPT was instilling fear in people to win them over.
Garab Dorji, the PDP candidate from Gelephu Constituency alleged that the DPT ploy of highlighting the presence of the former lyonpos in their party was working well for them.
“Switching loyalties has become unstoppable and with this pace I am sure it will go on until election,” he added.
However, Prem Gurung, the DPT candidate for Sarpang Constituency said highlighting the leaders showed the strength of the party and it was necessary.
He added that supporters switching allegiance was a natural process. “They are joining the party that appeals to them. People have begun to understand which party stood for what,” said Prem Gurung.
Meanwhile, the PDP dzongkhag coordinator, Karma Galey, alleged that Achyut Bhandari, who lost to Garab Dorji in the informal election for the Gelephu PDP seat, has switched to DPT and was mobilizing support for the party.
“I totally deny it,” said Achyut Bhandari adding that people with ulterior motives were doing everything to stop him from taking part in any of the elected offices.
As the official campaign dates are nearing both the parties are accusing each other for exploiting the security clearance issue to garner votes.

Adidas walks on the Bhutanese national flag

January 16, 2008-Thimphu: The Gazelle 2 Bhutan shoes themed by a multi-billion designer company, Adidas, with Bhutan’s national flag on it, has generated an uproar among the Bhutanese.
A few businessmen traveling to Bangkok spotted the shoes which reminded them of something familiar about home. A closer look at the shoes chilled them – there it was, the precious jewel-holding, protective deities-representing national symbol on the tongue of the latest Adidas in town.
“It was nothing but pure insult to see our national flag on the Adidas shoe. I just couldn’t imagine all kinds of people dragging our national flag on their feet,” said a businessman who saw the shoes in Bangkok.
Sonam Kinga, the National Council-elect from Trashigang dzongkhag, who worked on a publication by the Center for Bhutan Studies, The Origin and Description of the National Anthem and National Flag of Bhutan said to commodify an emblem of national sovereignty by reducing it to a shoe design is an insult of insurmountable degree.
“It is worse than burning the effigy of a president in the streets of Kabul or someone else’s national flag in Karachi. I am sure Bhutan has given no cause to provoke Adidas to smear her dignity as a sovereign nation. This is irresponsible globalization and capitalism at its height,” he said.
Dasho Shingkhar Lam, a Bhutanese scholar, said the flag represents the whole country – that the flag itself is the Druk Gyalkhap. “Even when we carry the flag we have to treat it with respect. We don’t wrap things with the flag. For me this is shocking; it feels like our flag is being trampled under people’s feet. When I think about it I feel really angry,” he said.
Pelden Dorji, a moviemaker, was alarmed when he saw the shoes on a color printout. “I feel sad when I see our national flag on someone’s shoes,” he said. For Sonam Lhaki, 19, the shoes looked trendy but to have them on her feet was something that she wouldn’t dare.
“The shoe is not a good idea. It is the desecration of our national flag. I was even against our national flag on football shorts. Basically our traditional way of thinking is that the leg is impure compared to our head,” said Dorji Wangchuk, a freelance journalist.
“This is outrageous, how would they feel if their country’s national flag was advertised on their shoes?” said Phub Zam, the managing director of the Yarkey Group of Companies.
For high school students like Sonam Wangchuk, the national flag is a matter of immense pride and respect they have for their country. “In school the national flag is always above everything else, we sing our national anthem in front of the national flag. To see someone wearing it on their shoes will be a sheer insult to us,” he said.
Bhutan’s foreign ministry and the Bhutanese Embassy in Thailand have taken up the issue with authorities in Thailand. Officials said no government approval was taken for the production and the sale of the product by the designer company.
Foreign ministry officials said the company has used the Bhutan’s national flag as a marketing gimmick. “It’s like a pig riding on a good name,” said an official. “However, it has been agreed that the product will be withdrawn from the market.”
Observers, however, point out that the withdrawal of the product from the market in Thailand will not be enough. “Such an act needs to be dealt legally. Getting the shoes out of the market in Thailand does not solve the problem, it is still going to be sold in other parts of the world,” said another Thimphu businessman.
The supplier for Adidas in Thailand, Adidas Thailand Ltd., imported 300 pairs of shoes with Bhutan’s national flag on it, of which 200 have already been sold out.
Online search at didn’t reveal anything on the product or the launch. However, prices a pair at US $ 42.
A blog with the domain name mentions: “Recently Adidas has come up with new brand of shoes which has Bhutan National Flag color and logo in it and named the product as Gazelle 2 Bhutan. First released in 1968 as an all-round trainer, the Gazelle is back with a new look, restyled with a shiny leather upper and bold colors that celebrate the beauty of Bhutan.”
The Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, told BT that the national flag is a sacrosanct embodiment of virtue, source of inspiration and any violation of the sacredness and desecration of the flag is disrespect to the Bhutanese and injurious to the Bhutanese sentiments.

Bhutan People’s ‘Un-registered’ Party?

The Election Commission did not register the BPUP as a political party. A press release read BPUP as being ‘disqualified’. It has many implications.
If the ECB stands its ground, the move will give the ECB the legal justification not to have the primary round. BPUP, the third aspiring party has been disqualified; another third party now is highly unlikely as poll day closes in.

Observers say that BPUP’s credibility suffered because it merged initially with the erstwhile APP, which later merged with DPT. The present BPUP then parted ways from DPT.
Many people feel that, even if registered, it would be difficult for BPUP to challenge the two existing parties which has already gained a stronghold among the Bhutanese voters.
The grounds on which the BPUP was disqualified are intriguing.
The ECB states that the BPUP does not have the ‘capacity’ and the ‘ability’ to run the government. In a democracy, it is the electorate who decides which party is capable of forming the government.
That is why there are elections. Registration is not the ticket to form the government. It is to participate in the elections.
The ECB also states that the candidates are not capable of forming the cabinet and the parliament. According to the Election Bill, it is not necessary for a party to submit list of candidates, only members in their application for registration. In the primary round, only the parties will contest. Candidates contest only in the general round. Even the two registered parties have not finalised their candidates for all the constituencies. Assuming that BPUP was registered and makes it through the primary round, it is not improbable that candidates from the party that lost the primary or other aspiring candidates could legally join it. So an assumption that the BPUP will have a weak set of candidates and the conclusion that they will not be ‘capable’ is a heavy statement.
The ECB states that a political party “needs maturity and the appropriate mix and strength in terms of its membership” and justifies it by saying that “more than 80 percent of the members are youth who are drop-outs from class X and XII or have no academic qualifications.”
Demanding maturity from an aspiring political party when the whole wagon of democracy is in its infancy including the ECB is a difficult call. It is also incorrect to require members to have ‘academic qualifications’ because the draft constitution and the election rules set the qualification criterion only for candidates and not the members. Every eligible voter is eligible to be a member.
Today, any voter can be a member of the registered parties by signing their registration forms. Most of their members would surely be those without academic qualification.
The ECB says that the BPUP’s claim to be a party for the “nyamchung” (common people) was not broad-based and not cross-national. BPUP members said that they had not described the party using the word in the charter or in any written document. However, some members had propagated the party using the word in the media in the past.
The question is, does the usage of the word ‘nyamchung’ in the media make an aspiring party not broad-based and not cross-national?
The ECB states that the party has also failed to demonstrate the support of 2,500 youth as it had claimed. But the Election rules do not require an aspiring political party to prove its support for the party to get registered.
The ECB also says that the Charter of BPUP has no clear “ideology, vision and mission.” The following is for the readers to assess.
The BPUP vision: To pursue His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s dream of true democratic nation whereby his philosophy of Gross National Happiness is achieved for the benefit and welfare of the Bhutanese people.
The BPUP mission: To maintain the highest level of peace, harmony, social equality and justice, and to further strengthen the nation’s security, sovereignty and make a vibrant socioeconomic development by creating a unique democratic political culture in the world.
Is it ‘clear’?
Ideology is a programme of political action and the leaders of the two registered parties have repeatedly said that their priorities and manifestoes will not differ much and that it will be dictated by priorities of the 10th five-year plan.
The leadership of BPUP has also been questioned. The party did not comply with the registration requirements by not having a president but an interim president.
The BPUP is also accused of receiving money from people other than registered members, and also for receiving contributions in cash which they were not supposed to. In a letter to the ECB, the BPUP has accepted it and said that the party was in urgent need of money then and states “we will not repeat the same in future”.
It isn’t impossible that the other two registered parties wouldn’t have made mistakes. Mistakes are unavoidable in the transition to democracy.
The ECB has accused the BPUP for waiving off membership and registration fees which the BPUP denies.
The ECB states that the “applicant can avail of an opportunity to be heard, if it so desires”. However, ECB did not clarify whether BPUP has any chance of being reconsidered if they strengthen on the so-called weaknesses. BPUP members said that they looked up to the ECB to guide and help them come up as a political party, and not abruptly disqualify them.
We are all novices in the move towards democracy.