The role and use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the 2013 political election will specifically assess how far parties are exploiting the unique characteristics of the internet to foster new styles of election campaigning.
The 2013 political election will also witness the extent to which ICTs open up new channels of communication and information and thus change the nature of electoral participation. ICT is also expected to contribute to broader debates about the changing role of parties, campaigning and concerns about declining electoral turnout.
According to the population records maintained by National Statistics Bureau (NSB) which is based on Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2005, by year 2013 Bhutan’s total population projection is estimated at 733,004.
Out of which 182,000 of the citizens fall in the age group of 18-30 years meaning that these age group possibly are the educated lot and hence an ICT erudite. Statistically, 78,000 of them reside in the urban while 104,000 in the rural settlements. The NSB records also says that since the last election in 2008 by 2013 over 14,000 youths will have reached the age 18 and to exercise their right to vote.
The government has already pledged billions of ngultrums to make this country a knowledge-based Bhutanese society by harnessing ICT. Information technology development and dissemination is the priority area of the royal government.
The ICT development in the country will provide access to information technology and IT solutions to a significant proportion of Bhutan’s population, including government officials, teachers, entrepreneurs and rural children, by training and establishing ICT enabled schools, computer labs, and computer stations in rural Bhutan.
“It is difficult for me to make any judgment on what could likely happen in 2013 as we are yet obligated to see through the Local Government Elections in the near future. However, there is no denying that the inroads of ICT technologies will influence the manner of the Election campaigning that will be conducted or to be administered,” Dasho Kuenzang Wangdi, Chief Election Commissioner said adding that the application of ICT technologies had played a significant role in 2008 parliamentary elections as well although not at an extensive level as it may in 2013.
“I hope that Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s promise to make Bhutan an ICT enabled nation does not fail. I am sure if ICT is made available to all citizens, politicians will make use of the facility in the upcoming political campaigning in 2013,” the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay said.
The Internet's development and the importance of online campaigning it seems are underrated in Bhutan. Bhutan is yet to come up with a comparative basis for evaluating internet’s future evolution and how it can influence future political elections.
“The rapid growth of ICTs in the country is expected to provoke considerable debate about their implication on democracy. However, if our politicians do not deliberate on it, this would either mean they don’t care or are ignorant about it which in turn is not good for them,” Dorji Wangchuk, a civil servant said.
Sonam Yangden an engineer said that the high volume and speed of information transmission possible via the internet means that it has the potential to offer more substantive basis for campaigning than traditional forms of media.
“Parties in the future must use their websites primarily as information vehicles to provide voters with policy based material. Alternatively, however, parties may be tempted to exploit the emerging combinations of audio-visual and graphical features like it was done to some extent in the first election to attract and retain supporters,” hinted Karma Gyeltshen a civil servant.
The ability of ICT to gather information on voters means that parties have greater opportunities to target certain groups of voters and even personalize campaign messages. The fact that about 50% of the eligible voters by 2013 are the younger lot, much of the focus will be on them since they are the possible ICT citizens.
“From a party’s perspective, the interactive potential of ICTs offers parties a low cost and very direct means of seeking immediate feedback from voters on policy and campaign tactics. Technologies will also present the opportunities for parties to form ongoing relationships with voters to both mobilise and retain supporters,” a member of the Parliament said.
According to Kezang Dorji a civil servant and a hopeful member of the parliament after the 2013 parliamentary election technology may provide the means but does not necessarily provide the motivation to participate. “So I would combine the good old method of political campaigning at the same time making optimum use of ICT,” he said.