The okay, however, is accompanied with some critical observations from the ECB
The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), in an ‘opinion’ sent to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) around two days ago, has given the go ahead for the PDP to take in DNT candidates for the general elections round. This meant that the seven DNT candidates including the President and Vice President could file in their nomination papers as PDP candidates.
The PDP had originally proposed the names of nine DNT candidates to the ECB, all of whom were given the go ahead to join PDP. In end, however, only seven DNT candidates are joining the PDP- with Jigme Dorji from Drametse-Ngatshang and Tenzin Lekphell from Bartsham-Shongphu being left out. The ECB, in its go ahead, has divided the approved candidates into two categories.
In the first category, the ECB has given the go ahead to DNT candidates who secured more votes than PDP candidates on the grounds that they give voters a popular choice. In the second category, the ECB has allowed DNT candidates who had fewer votes than PDP candidates to join PDP as part of nomination procedure to replace PDP candidate who are unable or unwilling to stand as candidates.
The ECB opinion says, “In the context of both the intent as well as the letter of Section 209.c to offer opportunity to the electorate of a specific demkhong (constituency) to vote in a candidate of popular choice,”DNT candidates like President Dorji Choden, Vice-President Jigme Zangpo, Tenzin Lekphell, Lekey Dorji, and Norbu Wangchuk who have received more votes than PDP candidates may replace them to offer a popular choice to voters.
The ECB opinion says that in the case of four other DNT candidates, the reason of offering the electorate the opportunity to elect a candidate of popular choice is not relevant. The other four candidates are Kinely Dorji from Radhi-Sakteng, Pelzang Wangchuk from Jomostangkha-Martshala, Jigme Dorji from Drametse-Ngatshang, and Tshering from Panbang.
“However, as per nomination procedures, the other four DNT candidates can also be nominated if the original candidates do not wish or are unable to stand as candidates in the general elections,” says the ECB opinion.
The former Opposition Leader Tshering said, “We respect the ECB’s opinion, and therefore, we will work within the framework of the law, whereby the seven DNT candidates can join PDP as noted by the ECB.”
The ECB, however, before arriving at the final decision above has done a critical analysis of the situation and the implications of allowing and not allowing DNT candidates to join PDP.
The opinion says that under section 209.c it is permissible for a party eligible for general elections to nominate candidates on the tentative list of the other parties that did not make it to the general elections.
“However, the primary implication is that the number proposed (9 candidates) is large, amounting to almost 20 percent of the total candidates fielded for the elections, which raises serious concerns on the likelihood of coalition and horse trading effect,” says the ECB opinion.
The ECB also points out that since four of the DNT candidates have lesser votes than the PDP candidates they are going to replace; it indicates a certain amount of closed door negotiations having taken place between the parties like a de facto coalition, rather than the concerned candidate being approached. It says that it appears that it was being decided by the party.
The ECB says that though it may be taken as a de facto coalition of PDP and DNT, it is not de jure or legal as both parties are separate entities under the law.
The ECB points out that the highest party leadership joining another party a week after the primary round raises questions on ethics and morality, although it cannot be objected to legally. It says such questioning could lead to a loss of public faith in the political process.
The opinion says that the ultimate repercussion would, of course, be borne out in the ballot box on poll day as there is no guarantee that these replacements would be elected to office, which would determine the effectiveness of such a strategy.
It also says that the viability of DNT as a registered political party may become necessary to be reviewed once issues related to the National Assembly elections are settled.
The ECB opinion says that the implication of not allowing DNT candidates to join PDP could be primarily in terms of the possibility of ECB being challenged in court based on section 209.c by PDP or DNT candidates.
In the end, the ECB while not entirely pleased with the ethical issues involved approved the move as it was in keeping with the law.
However, former DNT President and now PDP candidate Dorji Choden said, “My own view is that coalitions are only formed when parties are elected to power and not before that. There is nothing legally wrong otherwise the ECB would not have allowed this.”
She stressed that DNT candidates had made their own individual choices to join PDP. She said, “Our standing principle is that party interest above individual interest and national interest above party interests. I also owe it to my constituency which overwhelming voted for me in the primary round.”
Another DNT candidate said, “It would have been much easier for some DNT candidate to have said yes to DPT, and joined them and have higher chances of enjoying power, but the fact that the DNT President and others took a more difficult path shows our commitment to democracy.”