The winner takes it all

I commemorated the first anniversary of our country’s first general elections by pouring over the election results. And, in doing so, I was reminded of the pain and disappointment on that historic day. I was also reminded of the dangers of our electoral system.

Of the 253,012 votes cast, 83,522 were cast in favour of PDP. That works out to a little over 33% of the total votes cast. The rest, that’s about 67%, were cast in favour of DPT.

But PDP won only two of the 47 constituencies. That’s barely 4% of the total number of constituencies. So although PDP won 33% of the total votes cast, it won only 4% of the total number of seats in the National Assembly.

Now what if Dasho Damcho Dorji, contesting Khatoe-Laya, had received 4 less votes? He got 349 votes, so 4 less would mean that he would have got 345. And his opponent, who got 343 votes would have gotten 347. So PDP would have lost Khatoe-Laya.

And what if I, Tshering Tobgay, contesting Sombaykha, had received 190 less votes? I got 1224 votes, so 190 less means 1034 votes. And my counterpart , who got 846 votes, would have gotten 1036 votes. So PDP would have lost Sombaykha too.

4 less votes in Khatoe-Laya and 190 less in Sombaykha would have meant that PDP would have gotten a total of 83328 votes, not 83522. And 83328 out of 253012 works out to 32.93%, that’s almost 33%. So, if that had happened, and theoretically it could have, PDP would have won 33% of the popular vote, but would have had no seats in the National Assembly. And we wouldn’t have had an opposition party.

In fact, in theory, PDP could have won as much as 49% of the total votes cast, and not won a single constituency. That would have happened if PDP had lost every constituency by a very small margin. And DPT? It would have enjoyed an absolute majority in the national assembly although it would have won only 51% of the total votes.

Why am painting such a bleak picture? Because we must accept that our system can produce such an undesirable result. This is one of the disadvantages of a first past the post or winner-takes-all system.

But many countries, including India and the USA, use this system. True. And, theoretically speaking, such outcomes are also possible in those countries. Possible, but very unlikely, because they have a large number of constituencies.

In our country, however, with only 47 constituencies and a small voter population, the likely hood that a party can win 49% of the total vote and yet not win a single constituency, should not be ignored.

I’ve learnt that politics is dangerous. And I’ve also learnt that our electoral system is very dangerous.


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  1. Thats the beauty of mathematics. It can mislead and confuse. i don’t have facts and figures with me to show the computations, but let look at the election result scenario from the other side.

    In all the constituencies that PDP lost by smaller margins, increase the votes of PDP to make it just enough to win over the DPT candidates. PDP would have won about half the seats in the National Assembly and would still have a average total vote of only about 40%.

    I think there is no better way than this. Being second best is no good even if it is by a margin of one vote. Here is where mathematics should actually be used. Focus energy and resources on constituencies where PDP can actually win and has a chance to win. Make sure the one or two critical votes that are going to make the difference is on your side and not theirs.

  2. Anonymous says

    We all know the only reason why PDP lost badly. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup has dutifully taken the moral responsibility by resigning as the party president although, although, he hasn’t done anything wrong. In fact Lyonpo Sangay have contributed so much to the country especially when he was agriculture minister. He was truly a visionary leader.

    But unfortunately he was dragged to be defeated. We all know why.

  3. Yes, that’s what the theory of mathematical probability tells us. But, I won’t call it “dangerous.” It is a risk one must be prepared for, and have means ready to manage it.

    There are nations and sub-national territories much smaller than us in population, which has been using pretty much the same rules as ours. None, to my knowledge, have had to face the risk you speak of.

    Instead, their historical experience has highlighted one, of many, “mathematical” strengths of our system: low inertia, i.e., the likelihood of frequent changes in the ruling party. In other words, the voice of those who are disappointed by the government’s performance is more likely to be reflected in election outcomes.

    Democratic discipline can therefore be stronger in our system. This is not to be overlooked at all, for one crucial historical lesson of other nations with the “inertia” in their systems: The longer a ruling party stays in power, the stronger the growth of vested interests. It means the chance of corruption spreading its roots into the political machinery is greater, causing undesirable election outcomes over a long period of time.

    Democratic nations large or small have devised and tried all sorts of rules over the years. But, the history teaches us that there is no single rule that assures perfect proportional representation – the parliament reflecting the exact share of the popular vote. Every rule has its strength and weaknesses, and no rule is superior over others. What is important is to understand the strengths, and value them to nurture the development of a wholesome democracy.

    Above all, one must invest the time and effort into securing a sound political awareness of the general public. After all, there is one huge risk all election rules share equally: apathy and a sense of popular disempowerment. It cause a low election turnout, which can produce a landslide victory. This is one risk that has hit a number of countries, including in our own neighborhood.

  4. Sir,

    nothing we can do by looking at last year’s result of general election. we cannot blame any one and I would rather say that the electroral system is not dangerous but the technique used to play in the system is more dangerous. (e.g. Football is a beautiful and fun loving game and every body likes it, but it is dangerous if the players do not know the rule of the game and how to play the game).Anyways, we will perform much much better in the next round.

  5. Anonymous says

    The first election results shows how politics will work in Bhutan. It is not like India or the USA. India because rich people would buy all the votes. The USA, the elections are very refined and poeple there understand what votes means, because times have tought them.

    In Bhutan its neither of them which can influence votes. Its something else. next time PDP should explore this something else and the winning is guaranteed.

  6. Anonymous says

    one solution: submit the list of probable contenders from parties. go voting. count all votes and see the percentage of votes received by each party. and dive 47 seats between the two parties based on the overall vote percentage.

    with that be good sir?

  7. Anonymous says

    Thats why according to Laloo Yadav,Democracy is politics of arithmetics. You just have to play with the numbers. Get the number and you rule.


  1. […] it wasn’t that bad – 33% of the voters had supported us. It’s just that that, unfortunately, translated to only two of the 47 seats in the National […]

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