The Anti Corruption Commission filing criminal charges against the current Speaker Jigme Tshultim and the Home Minister Minjur Dorji over the Gyelpozhing land case could bring an early end for their political prospects in 2013.
This is because under the current Election Act a candidate who has a registered and ongoing criminal case against him cannot compete in politics.
A senior Election Commission official on the condition of anonymity said, “As of now looking at the current case the two of them (Home Minister and Speaker) will be unable to contest in the 2013 elections.”
Section 179 (g) of the Election Act says, ‘a person shall be disqualified as a candidate or a member holding an elective office under the Constitution, if he/she: has been accused of felony in a pending case and the competent Court has taken cognizance and charges have been framed against him/her.’
The election official told this paper that ‘taking cognizance’ means if the judge has accepted the case which has happened with the Mongar District Court judge accepting the criminal case and the ACC has filed the criminal charges against the Speaker and the Home Minister.
Another avenue for the disqualification for both the potential candidates is if they are found to be guilty and convicted in the criminal case.
Here Section 179 (a) is applicable which says disqualifies candidates who ‘have been convicted for any criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment.’
The Election Officer explained that as per the Election Act all candidates as part of their registration process would have to bring in an affidavit from the courts saying that the candidate has not been criminally convicted or does not have an ongoing criminal case.
“In the case of the Speaker and Home Minister no such affidavit can be made available under the present circumstances,” said the Election Officer.
However, there is a ray of hope for the two candidates especially given the legal twists and turns on the Gyelpozhing so far. If both candidates are declared innocent before the registration date then they can take part in the 2013 elections.
Earlier the Speaker had already announced his resignation from the DPT party for the 2013 elections. However, even of late there is an attempt ‘to change his mind’ by his supporters and also DPT party members. The Speaker so far has also not stated that if he does leave DPT, if he would consider joining any other party for the 2103 race.
The Speaker is considered to be a strong candidate from his constituency of Radhi-Sakteng.
Lyonpo Minjur Dorji is the candidate from the Kanglung constituency in Trashigang and is also considered a popular candidate from there.
The loss of the two candidates is not expected to cause any major dent to DPT and may in fact come as a relief to DPT as the ACC took a more liberal view of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo and decided not to book the then senior ministers who took plots under criminal charges. Other ministers like Lyonchhen Jigme Y. Thinley and Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba only face civil charges against them so far.
Of the two the ACC Charges against the Speaker as the former Chairman of the Gyelpozhing Plot Allotment Committee is more stringent and comes under NA1-2 of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo for forgery and deceptive practices. The sentencing can range anywhere from three months to six years.
The charge against the Home Minister as the Chairman of the Mongar Municipal Committee is lighter as official misconduct under section 294 of the 2004 Penal Code. This comes under misdemeanor which ordinarily is let off with a fine.
One of the key elements will be the speed of the trail. Mongar District Court Judge Gyembo Dorji said, “The speed of the train will depend entirely on the litigants. If they decide to fight, the case will take longer and if they decide to accept the charges then it can be finished early in a week or two.”