THIMPHU, Bhutan, 16 July 2013
Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan’s incoming prime minister, is facing several daunting tasks like reassuring India that it will not deviate from its diplomatic policy of not having formal ties the “Big Five” of the UN, including China and restoring economy, when he assumes charge.
Tobgay, chief of the victorious People’s Democratic Party, will assume charge as the Himalayan nation’s second democratically elected prime minister later this month.
During the campaigning, the 47-year-old leader had criticised his predecessor and outgoing ruling party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa chief Jigmi Y Thinley for his apparent warmness towards China by meeting the then Premier Wen Jiabao in Brazil last year, a move which apparently irked New Delhi.
Tobgay is yet to speak up his mind after his party secured a landslide victory in Saturday’s general elections by winning 32 seats in the 47-member National Assembly.
He has indicted that he would speak on issues facing the country only after formally taking over the country’s executive responsibility.
“I am a very technical and it is high time that we follow due process. I cannot take a position now,” he told reporters.
In its manifesto, the PDP pledges that in its first 100 days of government, its first priority will be to rebuild and strengthen India-Bhutan relations and in the long term interest of strengthening democracy, the PDP government will request India to finance a significant amount of economic stimulus plan.
The PDP chief also will have to balm New Delhi’s feelings which is apparently upset over Thinley’s move to set up diplomatic relations with 32 countries within his five year tenure and even hosting a British national (who later took Bhutanese citizenship) as “honorary consular” despite Bhutan’s stated policy that it would not host diplomatic missions of UN security council’s big five.
Bhutan has a special relationship with India and the Himalayan nation’s stated policy is that it won’t allow the UN Big Five — China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, to have diplomatic missions in Thimphu.
The meeting between Thinley and Wen in Brazil last year was seen by many in India as Bhutan’s warming up to China. Many also linked New Delhi’s recent decision to withdraw subsidy to kerosene and cooking gas with the meeting.
India had cut off the gas subsidy to Bhutan since a pact with the country had expired on 30 June. Thus, Tobgay has to find an early solution to the issue as of Indian subsidy on kerosene and cooking gas as it affects Bhutanese people.
Largest circulated Bhutanese daily Kuensel in its editorial ‘Turning over a new leaf’, said since the election was over, what remains for the new government is to take hold of the reins of governance and bring about the changes the electorate has been promised.
“One of the first things, the government will have to undertake is mobilise funds for (Bhutan’s) 11th Plan. It is also likely that it will get all the support and more in terms of assistance from government of India and the fuel subsidies withdrawn earlier this month will be restored,” Kuensel commented.
Tobgay, who is considered to be business friendly, will have to resolve the issue of Indian Rupee crunch which has hit the country’s business community hard, and credit restriction imposed by the Royal Monetary Authority which have severely affected the people.
Outgoing Prime Minister Thinley seemed to have taken the defeat of his party on his stride.
After having failed to reach Tobgay, to congratulate him over PDP’s victory, Thinley dropped him an SMS which read: “On behalf of the DPT family, I wish to congratulate you and your party for the resounding victory. We look forward to working with you for greater good and progress of our country.”
The Kuensel reported that Thinley attributed the outcome of the election to the people’s desire for change and also the kind of fair-mindedness of Bhutanese people to give an opportunity to others.
“We received this privilege of serving for the last five years, which has indeed been a historic opportunity and a great privilege. We have done our best and we now fully accept and respect the verdict of the people and we will do our very best to fulfil our role in the best possible way,” he said.