The National Council’s amendment that require candidates to have a 10-year experience before contesting for NC elections, in addition to the existing 25-year age bar condition, has generated strong debates on the issue.
The National Council’s decision has been made based on some flawed assumptions and desktop research with little or no consultation.
The decision of the NC is rapidly proving to be very unpopular, especially among the youth – it can be compared to the original Tobacco Act or even the Pedestrian Day decisions made in the past.
The ground reality is that majority of the members in the NC already have many years of experience and automatically fulfill the 10-year experience criteria.
The law, like all flawed laws, seems to be made or encouraged keeping in mind a few young individuals in the NC.
The previous NC which was also full of mainly older members with years of experience did not demonstrate any extraordinary wisdom or legal acumen in law-making as such. In fact, the majority of the NC members were not re-elected by voters who wanted new faces.
Some of the older members were the more regular bench warmers as opposed to some relatively younger NC MPs who were more active. The NC has to understand the three major flaws in the decision and its implications that go far beyond the Council.
The first is to equate age to competence, especially in a society where the balance is already heavily tipped in favour of the older people. A close look at many government organizations will show that its core strength and energy comes from mainly younger and dynamic officers.
It is too simplistic to say that either younger people or older people are more competent as it varies among individuals. However, while older officials or MPs may bring experience to the table, it can come with a lot of baggage, outdated attitudes – leading to institutional catharsis at times.
The second major problem is that while the decision is technically limited to the NC, it sends out a strong symbolic message to Bhutanese society and organizations, especially at a time when youth are grappling with youth unemployment. Besides indirectly affecting their recruitment – it will dampen their morale. Most organizations specify years of experience requirement for almost any job vacancy, irrespective of the competency of younger candidates. The NC decisions as the Upper House of the Parliament will only lend credence to this outdated but still strong professional bias.
The third problem is that the decision has heavy overtones of elitism and an air of preserving the old boys’ club. Decisions like this, in the long run, can lead to Bhutanese democracy being very elitist – limited to a few privileged sections of our society with an “I know what is good for you” attitude. The key essence of democracy and nation building is that it has to be an inclusive process where the effort and contributions of all ages, sexes, races, sects, regions and classes come together.
Bhutanese democracy is already a very watertight compartment with focus on educational qualification, keeping out candidates with criminal records and keeping religion out of politics. The majority of Bhutanese would support the above measures given experiences in our neighborhood, but any attempt to create additional segregations that do not exist in the Constitution could be both unconstitutional and undemocratic.
It is also ironic that politicians in the Upper House have started their term making the biggest political mistake that most politicians try their best to avoid, which is the mistake of alienating their voters. More than 60 percent of the Bhutanese population is below 30 years of age. In 2013 election, around 30 percent of the eligible voters were youth and this number will only go up sharply in 2018.
“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.”