In the haze of summer, with books still to be read, it’s a little hard to fathom that, in just a few weeks from now, Bhutan’s democracy will be on the line. And from now till that day we cast our votes, it is easy to sit and grumble about everything that has gone wrong with our beloved country.
But I’d like to think it’s time to dust off that overused aphorism about winning battles and losing wars and start asking the question that really matters – Who should I vote for?
I don’t propose to tell you who to vote for, but rather to offer a rational framework for making a decision. Also, I am assuming that your indecision isn’t because of ignorance of the political parties and their views. I mean you’re from Bhutan – so its safe to assume that you have adequate knowledge about the parties’ records, their views, their neighbors, and their speaking habits.
There is no question that the debates are game changers, though, in Bhutan, it still remains unclear whether it changes the game enough. I guess only time will tell – and even then we would base our analysis on preconceived ideologies. Many people I’ve spoken to believe that campaign events—conventions, debates, and the rest—are simply blips on a radar screen, short-term noise that diverts our attention from the guiding fundamentals of each race: the state of the economy and general stability of governance. I think that election debates matter, perhaps less than many breathless candidates think, but more than some of us want to believe.
A first suggestion is to avoid the fallacy of the most recent information. You already know a great deal, pro and con, about the four competing political parties, and if that hasn’t led you to a decision, how could a few further facts — a last-minute gaffe, a change in the 5-year-plan, a new television ad attack — make a decisive difference? Don’t privilege the tiny sliver of data that comes in during the next few weeks over the substantial body of information you’ve accumulated over years. If their past records and actions haven’t convinced you that one will be more competent, deciding the question from what happens between now and the election will commit the fallacy of the most recent information.
Most electoral theories assume that voters and political actors are fully rational. Given the complexity of social processes, I personally question the assumption of rationality underlying game theoretic models of elections. The natural solution, to assume bounded rationality, has been stifled by the abundance of possible alternative models.
But voting is a zero-sum game, meaning that whoever wins does so at the expense of someone else. As a result, voting promotes competition, not cooperation. Players might coordinate as a means of gaining an edge (“if you vote for X this time, I’ll give you Y next time”), but ultimately, “winning” the vote means beating someone else. Under competitive circumstances, we form groups — whether informal alliances or political parties — and we fight each other viciously for a win.
Is the choice in this election between the Status Quo and a Big Change? Many voters may well agree since the choice is laid out for them in black and white. But I think we can combine these two analyses in a way that avoids the partisan presuppositions of each and provide a helpful framework for deciding how to vote.
So far this is what I am hearing, that all the parties (old and new) are committed to ‘dismantling’ the current state of ‘how things are done’. They have all contended that they intend to achieve the national goals in a fundamentally different way, but exactly how they will execute on this, I am curious to see. Although they insist on a new era, there is a good chance that, willingly or not, they will find change very difficult.
I’ve been thinking lately about Shirley Chisholm’s legacy and her words: “Freedom is an endless horizon, and there are many roads that lead to it.” As Chisholm understood, we engage in imperfect systems sometimes, to make them more perfect. And our engagement in democracy comes in many forms — we engage in democracy in protests, in board meetings, in classrooms and, importantly, at the ballot.
I am not naive enough to believe that voting is the only way to bring about transformational change, just as I know that protest alone is not the sole solution to the challenges we face.
But elections do have consequences.
The next ruling party will continue to shape the trajectory of justice and landscape of opportunity in this country. They will be responsible for how millions of dollars in federal funding are spent, decide how to ensure both liberty and security in an increasingly interconnected world and determine the path forward on development and the opportunity to engage in development.
So we need to vote!
If Bhutanese people are good at one thing, it is circumvention. It seems paradoxical to call decentralization “revolutionary” while also preaching democracy by campaign slogans. If so, what a disappointing revolution! If we ever get to the point where we blindly accept what a bunch of slogans tell us, the system would have won and the humanity of Bhutanese people, in all its creative chaos, will sink into decline.
But let’s be wiser, we may be a young democracy but this is our chance to finally prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we are not a group of passive intellectuals. We need seasoned minds in the National Assembly so that they will understand more the issues of this generation. We need those with good morals and those incorruptible. We do not need those who will pass numbers of new laws — we already have enough laws, what we need are leaders who will scrutinize every issue that would haunt our people and our country and would support the side beneficial to the public in general. But most importantly, we need leaders who execute!
People need to start caring about this country again for a very simple reason – it is our home. We need to listen to our conscience, weigh things carefully, and not allow affiliations to dictate who we should vote for. This is the one time we can be true to ourselves, and really do the best we can for the country we all love.