The recent case of a Mongar National Council candidate’s father announcing his intent to file a complaint with the Election Commission of Bhutan, on political interference by Druk Phuensum Tshogpa in the NC elections, is a matter of grave concern.
The losing incumbent NC candidate from Bumthang and even the winning NC candidate from Trashigang have strongly hinted at political interference in their respective election races, without naming any specific political party in their interviews to the media.
There are reports on the strong political interference in many other Dzongkhags by party workers to influence the NC Elections, in the favor of certain candidates who are close to a prominent political party.
There are also reports from ordinary voters and family members of candidates, of being approached by the members of a prominent political party to influence votes. The party workers have reportedly spread various malicious and unsubstantiated rumors against candidates that they wanted to have sabotaged.
Such matters mentioned above are of a national concern, and it points at the political sabotage of the apolitical nature of the National Council.
It is still not clear how many NC seats have been influenced by politics, but based on the complaint from Mongar, and also on the information from voters filtering in across the country, many NC seats seem to have had some degree of political influence and interference.
To know the exact scope of the problem, and how effective the political interference has been, there should be a thorough investigation by the ECB on the issue of the politicization of the NC Elections.
However, it will not be fair to solely place the responsibility on ECB, as the commission can only act effectively on solid and evidence based complaints, from either candidates or ordinary voters.
The politicization of the NC, which was predicted by some observers much before the 2013 NC Elections, will have far-reaching implications on Bhutanese democracy, the Constitution, Parliament, Government, Constitutional Bodies, and the process of law making.
In the event that a political party gets a fairly strong majority in the National Assembly, and also has in place their multiple proxy candidates in the NC, it will enjoy powers that go beyond what the Bhutanese democracy and the Constitution allow.
The voters oblivious to the politicization of the NC will not consider the fact that they could be creating a ‘super political party’ and also a ‘super government’.
If the politicization is successful enough, then even non-political NC candidates will think twice before going against any ruling party that also controls the NC, due to their own re-election possibilities.
In the future, a politicized NC and a strong majority in the NA can lead to a host of possibilities than can negatively affect Bhutanese democracy.
With its huge majority in both the houses, a political party, by getting a three-fourths majority can impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Bhutan and other judges, Anti Corruption Commission Chairperson and its Commissioners, Chief Election Commissioner and its Commissioners, or Royal Civil Service Chairperson and its Commissioners.
The above will mean that the core character of a strong democracy which is the checks and balance of the different institutions, can be undone overnight. Both the Judiciary and Constitutional bodies will get compromised due to the impeachment powers of the ruling party.
One of the main duties of the NC is to review the laws and to ensure that it serve in not just political interests, but serves in the best public interest. However, an absolute majority will ensure that all kinds of laws are passed.
The party that can influence a three-fourths majority in both houses can also amend the Constitution at will, and subvert it to their political will and ambitions.
The same majority can also change the international territorial boundaries of Bhutan.
Though this may never happen, one possibility in the future is of a hostile and overtly ambitious political party and its leaders, making use of such a majority to even threaten the position of the reigning King at the time, by using the impeachment power of the Parliament for their own selfish interests.
The constitution states that, a two- thirds majority in both houses can pass an impeachment motion and a three- fourths majority can pass the motion, and then a National Referendum is held where the decision can be taken on the basis of a simple majority. Since the Bhutanese people will never support such a move, it also cannot be ruled out that an overtly strong party can try and influence such a referendum by tampering with constitutional bodies or other agencies which oversee such referendums.
In short, the successful politicization of the NC accompanied with a strong political party getting a strong majority in the lower house, has every ingredient of being an elected Executive Dictatorship that can exercise enormous and unchecked powers.
Using its undeclared majority in the Parliament such a party can subvert Bhutanese democracy, the Constitution, constitutional bodies and the laws of the kingdom. Such political might can also have a strong implication on the security and sovereignty of the nation.
“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”