A recent piece of advice by the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) party to the cabinet on the pay commission report took the government by surprise.
At a time when even the DPT and the PDP had not yet criticized the government, its own party consisting of those outside Parliament sent out a letter asking the ministers and MPs to not take a pay hike as it would impact the party’s image.
The letter also reminded the ministers and MPs of their ‘moral responsibility,’ to ‘Narrow the gap’.
The critical and public letter from DNT to its own cabinet and MPs is no coincidence, but it is part of a larger effort by DNT leaders, candidates and members outside the Parliament to keep it accountable to DNT’s ideals and roots.
This faction of the DNT is keen that the DNT ministers and MPs in power do not end up doing things that would hurt the party and its future electoral prospects.
As a part of this larger move the DNT party has already kick-started the process to elect a separate and new President as its party charter does not allow one person to hold both the Prime Minister and the Party President’s post.
As a move towards this, the old Executive Committee of the party moved to dissolve itself recently but not before deciding that the 47 candidates of the party, inside and outside Parliament, would nominate a new executive committee.
The Party General Secretary, Phurba said that the new nominated executive committee will be in place with atleast around 10 of the 15 members and the 10 would nominate the rest five.
The executive committee will review the DNT charter and look at changing three things which would then be placed before the party convention for final endorsement.
One important aspect of the Charter that will be looked at is the part saying that the Prime Minister or Opposition Leader will not hold the Party President’s post too.
The DNT General Secretary said DNT will aim to expand and define this section better as the current section is not adequate. He said that the charter will have to spell out the the role of the party president and the linkage between the party president and the prime minister.
The executive committee as part of this will also be looking at the draft terms of reference for the party president that will look at his powers, role and entitlements.
Another aspect of the charter will be relooking at the National Advisory Council which was drafted in 2013. The relook is given that the council is not able to get prestigious national figures in it since none of them want to be registered as a party member.
The third aspect of the charter’s clause that is being relooked at is that two of the members of the executive committee have to be elected from the National Convention. The party wants to have a nomination process after which an election is done instead of a direct on the spot election of two members.
From the above, it is clear that the DNT’s so far inactive executive committee will play a much more important role with its own full time President.
An important power of the executive committee is that it will be the one to decide who gets tickets or not in 2023 and so the committee will be evaluating the performance of MPs and ministers alike.
All of the above are not new developments but are issues close to DNT since its formation. The party, taking lessons from what they saw as mistakes of DPT and PDP, resolved to do things differently.
One was not to have a centralized power structure and hence the separate President and PM, the second aim was to have a more vibrant internal party democracy whereby it is not only the elected MPs and ministers calling all the shots and the party bearing its implications and lastly to ensure that party is kept alive and involved, but without crossing any lines.
The DNT itself was a party that was governed by a group of founders for a long time from its inception till 2018 where no single leader took decisions, but rather it was a collective.
However, the going for this internal struggle within DNT has not been easy, visible in the inability and delay to elect a separate party president and bring resultant changes within the party.
In November 2018, when the the DNT formed the government, one of its main commitments was to have a separate party president in line with its charter.
At the time, DNT party leaders said that around two months would be required to elect a new party president.
However, even six months later the DNT was not able to elect a separate party leader.
A DNT leader, on the condition of anonymity, said that the issue had been brought up a couple of times before some cabinet members but it did not progress much at the time.
It now appears that the internal DNT party mechanism has decided to push ahead with this.
According to another DNT leader, so far, the hesitation from the unelected DNT party members was that they did not want to impose on the cabinet members but the ball is now rolling.
There was some concern within DNT’s unelected members that it is important that not only one or two leaders should be seen to be getting the main limelight.
The is in the backdrop of the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering and the Foreign Minister Dr Tandin Dorji who are seen as the main faces of the party and also increasingly as the two main power centers in the cabinet.
However, the DNT leader was quick to point out that decisions are taken based on consensus within the cabinet and there is an extensive level of consultation.
This feeling also betrays the new equation among DNT’s leaders as until recently all of the key leaders and founders had almost equal say in running the party, but after the 2018 elections the elected Ministers and MPs have been busy running the government.
DNT, however, is also not keen to transgress into the domain of ministers and MPs but it would like to keep a degree of connect and accountability.
One way that the DNT has been trying to do this is the formation of 5 committees comprising of the 47 candidates of DNT.
Each committee looks at two ministries each and the members send information and feedback to the ministers concerned. They also have their WeChat groups.
Coming to the issue of DNT and the government, a DNT founder Tenzin Lekphell said that one concern is to ensure that the party is not completely ignored.
He said that the Office of the Prime Minister should have some political appointees to support and help as it is not adequate to just have civil servants. He said these appointees can be the link between the party, cabinet and the people.
The Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandin Dorji assured that the convention would happen soon. He said that the annual convention is an annual feature and it would definitely happen anytime this calendar year.
Lyonpo Tandin agreed with the party charter’s need to separate the prime minister and president and also the underlying logic of preventing excessive concentration of powers in one person or office.
The minister said that the party has sought for nominations to the post of the president.
One name doing the rounds for the President’s post within DNT is Tenzin Lekphell but both Tenzin Lekphell and DNT party members declined to officially confirm or deny this.
The party general secretary said that ultimately the nominated executive committee, their decisions, changes to the charter and the election of the President would all have to be cleared and voted on by the national convention of DNT.
A challenge for DNT is to sustain its party operations. For that 10 percent of the MP’s pay is cut and this is used to sustain the Thimphu office and its staff.
DNT, for now, has closed its regional and Dzongkhag offices to save costs.