However, queries surface as to whether the government and the prime minister is in murky waters following dissent in their own camps.
By Rinchen Dorji
The appointment of a new minister in the Druk Nyamrup cabinet last week has stirred a huge debacle among the DNT party honchos, whereby some senior party-members had even gone to the extent of questioning the Prime Minister’s, who is also the party president, move.
Oblivious to the fact that they were washing their dirty linen in public, some bold DNT ruling Member of Parliament had questioned the prime minister’s wisdom in appointing the new minister which seemed to sprout out of the fact that the party, with the PM at the helm, was only awarding ministerial portfolios to a small cohort of MPs dubbed as the ‘founding members’.
According to them, ministerial and senior posts were reserved for this small esteemed group while the majority of MPs who contested for the first time with DNT in 2018 are not being given opportunities despite performing well all these years.
It was even stated that some senior MPs, within their own party ranks, are of the opinion that should this trend continue even after the 2023 elections, then they may languish being as MPs despite their hard work in the Parliament and never rise above this privileged group.
A weekly paper described the situation ‘as a feeling so strong that five DNT MPs came out openly with their names in interviews with the paper to raise the issue.
“They, the MPS, stated that the majority of DNT MPs consisting of around 18 of them are on the same page on this issue,” it wrote, explaining in detail how senior MPs in DNT are disappointed with the whole process.
One even claimed that today the party has become like a family business where if you are among the founding members then it is your right to become a minister while another opined that the post should have gone to a sitting MP as they have completed around three years in Parliament.
Among other concerns raised by these MPs, the issue of appointing a young guy into the home minister’s post were brought o the fore. However, in the end most hinted that they finally stood with the decision of the prime minister who, also being the party president, has the sole mandate to choose cabinet members.
While the ensuing typhoon in the DNT cabinet could be viewed as ominous signs of political instability inside the government’s own camps, it can also be lauded as a the birth of a new democratic culture in Bhutan’s party politics whereby all party members, including the PM himself, is liable for public scrutiny.
It also reveals how the DNT-government, led by Dr Lotay Tshering, is breaking new grounds to ensure that all members of the parliament has equal say in the cabinet’s affairs.
Sonam Tobgay, 46, a DNT-party worker from Paro dzongkhag said the prime minister is a very considerate human being who has the patience to listen to the views of even the most unimportant individual. He said that even as a doctor, he, Dr Lotay, was the most approachable doctors-on-duty while he was serving in JDWNR Hospital.
“The few senior MPs voicing out their concerns and coming in public to question their own party leadership shows how much DNT has evolved as a party with a very open and vibrant democracy. Earlier, it would have been a taboo for any MP to criticize or voice out something against the party, or the prime minister,” Sonam said.
Earlier, Lyonchhen Dr. Lotay Tshering stating that taking the decision on the new minister’s appointment was the toughest moment of his life so far. He has also claimed that he takes the entire responsibility of all his decisions and that he will stand by the consequences if any that were to befall on the party.
This is a trait, most party workers and senior observers in the government machinery say, that the new prime minister has adopted so that individuals, including himself, are brought into account instead of passing the buck onto someone if things fail.
A member of parliament, who wished not to be named, stated while the recent debate on the minister’s appointment could be construed as flaying their own faulty skin for the public to see, it can also be signs of better things to happen in as it sheds the old skin of thought whereby any decision taken by the prime minister is deemed unquestionable by the party or ruling members.
“DNT by doing this creates a system of check and balance within it’s own party circles so that it evolves as a party that values opinions and criticisms, vital for any progress, and not get burdened by trivial differences like this incident,” the MP said, adding that while the government has larger duties to fulfill such checks were welcome in DNT-party circles.
A former MP, now a business executive based in Thimphu, said this should not be viewed as a “problem” within DNT. He said that from the national political prism, our elected members should learn that their disagreements should be voiced out, not against the person taking the decision, but underlining the fallacies of the decision.
“I don’t think we have elected members to just give the nod and always flow with the current. I hope that this will set a trend for democracy and politics in Bhutan. Leaders should be accountable, just like the PM has done in this case,” he said, adding if sitting MPs openly voice their concerns, the cabinet will also be very careful while taking any decisions on issues other than just the affairs of the party.
He added that he also disagrees with recent media reports and calls it a milestone in Bhutanese democracy as he feels the need of intra party democracy has been brought to the forefront because of these new developments.
While stating that the ongoing fracas among DNT members were unfortunate, one of the opposition MPs also acknowledged that such developments should be encouraged by any ruling government, and for that matter, the prime minister.
He said in vibrant democracies governments do not function as a complete separate entity from the opposition, instead, has their own mechanisms to keep check and balance of the entire party machinery.
“While the MPs coming out in the public to criticize their own party leadership was a little too brazen, as it had never happened before or could have easily been folded under closed doors, it shows how accommodating and open the present government is to mutual consent and criticisms among its own circles,” he said.
According to him, despite being on opposite ends the government and the opposition in Bhutan has always been supportive when it came to decisions that entailed larger common interests, and such developments, though detrimental for the party, must be encouraged.
However, while many brushed aside the developments as part of any daily affair of a ruling government, a few stated that the incident might spark further rift in the party which could be very detrimental to party’s development and future prospects.
An editor for a weekly said the DNT is unnecessarily laying bare their own faults for all to see which could have been amicably resolved behind closed doors. He said the prime minister, if he was to make a stance on his leadership prowesses, should be able to have a firm grip on his own men because enemies were aplenty.
Nonetheless, while the government seems to be grappled with a new storm of their own making, senior party executives including some ministers ensured that everything is up, good and running among the members, and that differences have been resolved.
“The prime minister has taken the situation into control and ensured that he will be solely to blame should his decision ricochet back on the party. We remain confident on the party’s leadership and will always support diverse opinions among ourselves as it is our duty to inculcate everyone into mainstay decision making,” a cabinet member said.