Political Parties in Paro

19 December 2012

Joint Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Electoral Commission of Bhutan (ECB), AusAID Funded, BRIDGE Workshop for Political Parties, Paro, Bhutan
19 – 23 November 2012.

The AEC and the ECB are currently conducting an AusAID-funded, multi-year, Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) in Bhutan Program.  As part of that program a 5-day customised BRIDGE Political Parties Module has been delivered for members of political parties and potential candidates in November 2012.
Given the proximity of the 2013 national elections in Bhutan, the workshop provided participants with a ‘light touch’ general understanding of foundational political party and campaign theory.   The major focus was on providing as much practical assistance as time allowed to prepare for the impending round of elections.
The initial agenda developed before the workshop was reviewed at the end of each day by the facilitators and progressively amended to meet the emerging needs of the participants.   There was significant local media interest throughout the workshop with several articles being published in the local paper and online. The national television broadcaster also ran several stories in the evening news.  
The concept of differentiation and open debate on issues was a challenging one for participants.  In light of this, the early group activities and discussions were critical situating enablers for participants.
In particular the following early workshop discussions proved pivotal:

• General characteristics of Democracy worldwide;
• The history and nature of Democracy itself in Bhutan (the beautiful gift of the fourth and fifth Kings);
• Common characteristics that unite all Bhutanese as a nation;
• What elections contests and assertive and competitive campaigning actually mean for political parties;
• Key differences that currently exist in Bhutanese society, particularly among voter target groups and on options to addressing emerging societal issues; and
• The necessity for, and acceptability of, political parties differentiating themselves from each other, engaging in genuine societal debates and issues, and providing a real choice for voters.

Interspersed throughout the workshop program was a series of ECB presentations and Q&A sessions which proved to be extremely useful for participants and highlighted a relatively low level of understanding by political parties, not only on the Electoral Law but also on ECB policies and procedures as they relate to political parties. 
Workshop Outcomes The course demonstrably met all the formal objectives and participant expectations set at the beginning of the workshop.  In fact, many participants observed that their expectations had been substantially exceeded.
Significant friendships and collaborative bonds were formed between participants, particularly across party lines.  This was positively commented on at some length by many participants.

The relationship of the parties with the ECB was strengthened, particularly in relation to the need for stronger ongoing communication channels between the parties, in the interest of clarity and accuracy.
Many participants observed that not only were they taking what they had personally learned on campaigns and campaigning back to their parties, but that they had also enjoyed and benefited from the participatory BRIDGE methodology.  Significantly this was not just in relation to their own learning, but also their ability and desire to take BRIDGE techniques and apply them in their own internal party training activities.

The workshop was conducted by Kinley, ECB Accrediting Facilitator, Sherab Zangpo and Sonam Tobgyal, ECB Workshop Facilitators, Cate Thompson AEC Expert Facilitator and Linda Reynolds Australian Political Party Expert Trainer.

Article Written by: Linda Reynolds and Cate Thompson


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