Lyonchhen explains his stand on the issue of selection of the new Labour Minister

Rebellion in the ranks

DNT MPs openly criticize selection process of new Labour Minister

The former Home Minister Dasho Sherub Gyeltshen’s resignation was accepted on 6th May 2021 and the by elections for Nanglam and Mongar was done by 29th June, but the decision on the new Labour Minister in the form of Karma Dorji only came by 8th September.

This delay is down to a highly acrimonious differences of opinion and infighting between many sitting DNT MPs on the one hand and the party and cabinet ministers on the other hand.

It got so bad that the DNT General Secretary Phurba who said he is taking a ‘neutral stand’ on the issue said that Lyonchhen Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering had told him that taking a decision on this was the toughest moment of his life so far.

At the heart of the dispute is the fear that the founders and older candidates of DNT from the 2013 elections have taken up all the ministerial and senior posts, and so the majority of MPs who contested for the first time with DNT in 2018 are not being given an opportunity despite their performance.

They fear that this trend will continue even after the 2023 elections and they may languish as MPs despite their hard work in the Parliament, their constituencies and other areas.

The feeling is so strong that five DNT MPs came out openly with their names in interviews with The Bhutanese to raise this issue. They say that the majority of DNT MPs consisting of around 18 of them are on the same page on this issue.

MP Jurmi Wangchuk

Drukjeygang-Tseza MP Jurmi Wangchuk said the senior MPs in DNT are disappointed with the whole process.

“DNT has become like a family business now where if you are among the founding members then it is your right to become a minister,” said the MP pointing out that senior MPs are not being given a chance.

MP Jurmi said that if the main criteria was to maintain the regional balance (three ministers from each region) then the natural choice was Kinga Penjor of Gangzur-Minjey as he was a sitting MP and had won both his primary and general rounds with a landslide and is a sitting MP.

He said that if the criteria is not a region then the chance should have been given to senior sitting MPs from other regions be it the south or west.

Jurmi who was one of the six names on the list said that he was not even aware that his named had been nominated and he only found out later from other MPs.

The MP will be turning 60 in November making him one of the most senior MPs, if not the senior most among DNT.

“When Lyonchhen called me saying my name is on the list and asking if I am interested, I had said that if I am selected I will serve you, His Majesty and the government with full dedication,” said the MP.

He said he has 20 plus years working experience in the UN, a skill, which others would not have and in the 2018 elections he was the DNT MP that got the highest votes at around 7,000 votes.

Jurmi said that the feeling around 18 MPs was that a sitting MP should become a minister as the by elections that DNT won was in part due to the hard work of the sitting MPs.

Giving his own example, he said under his Chairmanship of the Human Rights and Foreign Policy Committee he had rectified the BIMSTEC issue in Parliament and the also taken up the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill.

“I did my one month Desuup course and served unflinchingly for 21 days in Phuentsholing,” said the MP.

MP Ganesh Ghimiray

MP Ganesh Ghimiray of Phuentshopelri Samtse said, “Personally I though Kinga Penjor should have been made the minister since he would replace the Home minister from the east and he has been there since 2018.”

Ganesh said that Kinga not only won his election in 2018 from the east, but if two ministers had not been selected from Trashigang then Kinga would have been one of the three ministers from the east.

“Kinga is also a very intelligent and hardworking MP and he is bilingual with the necessary skills and this was the feeling among others too,” said Ganesh.

Ganesh said that if the priority was not for region then there were other senior MPs who were interested.

He said that when the former home minister resigned the thinking with the party was that Kinga would be the next minister given he was the only minister from the east.

However, at the same time despite his reservations he said he respects the decision of the Prime Minister in appointing Karma Dorji given that he was a founding member.

MP Kinley Wangchuk

Athang Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said, “I proposed Kinga Penjor’s name when the post became vacant as the preference was for the east and Kinga had won both his primary and general rounds with a landslide in 2018.”

He said that consensus among the senior MPs and the 18 MPs was that if the criteria is to have a minister from the east then it should be Kinga Penjor as he is bilingual, has a degree in Dzongkha and is mature and senior enough to take up a culturally sensitive ministry like the Home Ministry. He said that Kinga is even older than Karma Dorji.

The MP said the other feeling among the MPs was that the post should go to a sitting MP as they have completed around three years in Parliament which when taken into an academic world is enough to even complete a Bachelor’s degree and so parliamentary experience counts. He said there were also several MPs who had served in the past and were quite senior.

MP Kinley said he also respects the PM’s decision as he is the head but he said the PM should not have mentioned that 6 MPs are in contention and their names came out in the social media and eventually they are not getting anything.

He said in the current issue he had been pushing for Kinga Penjor and he has no ambitions for himself but if he is not given an opportunity in 2023 then it may become difficult.

He said after the 2018 elections more than himself he was trying to calm down his constituents and supporters and they had called Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji and Lyonchhen about him.

He said his supporters told him that Lyonchhen had assured them that if one of the ministers’ tumble then Kinley Wangchuk is likely to replace them.

MP Ugen Tenzin

Bji-Kartshog-Uesu MP Ugen Tenzin said that while the decision to appoint the minister is that of the Prime Minister at least the party’s executive committee where he is a member should have been consulted.

He said a last minute message in a group chat cannot be considered as consultation as the cabinet and the PM have to hear out what the members feel and then take a call.

He said that everybody is also asking why such a young minister has been placed as the Home Minister referring to the transfer of Lyonpo Ugen Dorji as the Home Minister.

He like others MPs said that if the selection of the minister was by region then the first choice should have gone to Kinga Penjor, but if it was not by region then there are many sitting senior including himself who could have been considered.

The MP said that after the 2018 elections he had been offered the Speaker’s post but he refused due to certain reasons and he had gone for a medical review but by the time he came back all the posts had been finalized.

MP Ugen said that while he did not propose his name his supporter and coordinators from Haa had approached the PM and asked him to consider his name.

He said his coordinators had submitted that that he had been in the first Parliament at a time when there was initially no one to contest from his constituency and he had served in the National Environment Commission (NEC), was one of the spokespersons and delegation heads. He said he also served in the 1991 and 2003 militia and had a long tenure in the Civil Service with a Masters in Public Administration.  He claimed he was also one of the candidates to replace the first government’s foreign minister until an arrow struck him in the head.

MP Ugen Tenzin said that when the party’s executive committee was trying to finalize the candidate for Nganglam in their last meeting they had recommended a woman candidate for the constituency as Karma Dorji was not willing.

“However, a few days later it was announced that Karma Dorji is the candidate,” said the MP.

MP Kinga Penjor

Gangzur Minjey MP Kinga Penjor said that after the 2018 elections he was one of the vey few MPs from the east and so it was awkward and so he did not raise any aspirations and kept quite.

He said that even now some senior MPs and a majority had recommended his name and had spoken in his favour, however, he felt even more awkward and he did not even discuss anything with the Prime Minister.

Kinga admitted that his constituents were hoping that he becomes a minister but he told them that the post of the minister must not be for him as an individual but for anyone who can serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum and the Prime minister would have the prerogative to appoint anyone if he feels somebody can do better than him.

He said his constituent have expressed their dissatisfaction to him on not getting the post but he asked them not to be upset and instead promised to work for them to his utmost capacity and give his best till the last day of office.

He said it is not necessary that he has to be in the cabinet to serve.

He said he is not an ambitious person and he has to respect the emotions of his constituents and also the decision of the Prime Minister.

However, he said that as matter of principle in 2018 if the focus was on giving regional representation with three ministers from the east then it would also have been fair to give balance among the Dzongkhags like Trashigang, Mongar and Lhuentse.

Kinga said he had been under pressure by his constituents and others to campaign and lobby for himself but he said he is a straightforward person and he cannot do ‘chamchagiri.’ He said he can contribute outside the cabinet and he does not need name and fame.

Kinga said that he is worried about a bad precedent being set now.

“The bad precedent is that even if it is a party president the president does not get elected in the first election and then wins in a by election then that person even as the president should not take up a portfolio on the grounds of principle,” said Kinga.

He said this is not just for DNT but for any party where someone even as senior as a President should not come towards the end of the term of the government and take up a portfolio.

The MP said his other worry is that several serving DNT MPs have served for three years now and they have endorsed various Acts and laws but such a move makes it look like all these MPs are not able. He said there are also many senior MPs.

He said that despite all this he respects the PM’s decision and this is not just mouth service but he really means it.

A different view

Lamgong Wangchang MP Ugyen Tshering had a different view from the above. He said that the issue had already been discussed and trashed out and such issues were not raised in the WhatsApp group.

He said it is not okay for MPs to come out and discuss this in the public domain as there are some things which should be kept within the party.

However, he too said that he had said as a joke to his fellow MPs that he hopes that with this announcement all the dues have been cleared with the founding members. He said they should now work together and move forward for the future.

PM responds

Meanwhile, the Prime minister held a small press conference to clarify the issues around this.

The Prime Minister said he talked to all cabinet ministers, MPs and 15 candidates who did not get elected in 2018 and all of them told them that it would be his decision to make.

He said there were a few who said that they will serve if given the chance, but they too also asked him to take the final call.

Lyonchhen said that on the issue of seniority all are senior and there is no seniority based on age and all DNT MPs are capable. He said that portfolios cannot be given on the basis of age otherwise he himself would not get the post of the Prime Minister given his age.

He said that there is also no binding rule or law that says that a certain numbers of ministers have to come from a certain region.

On Karma Dorji being made the minister the Prime Minister said that it is entirely his call and even his cabinet colleagues did not know, and so if there is any blowback then he is accountable. 

The PM said that the supporters of some MPs did approach him, call him or even wrote to him supporting their MPs.

The PM denied that Karma Dorji had been chosen as minister only because he was a founder. He said that being a founder is not the main factor though it is one of the many factors that were considered.

He declined to elaborate further on this though.

He denied making any prior ministerial commitment to Kinley Wangchuk and said that there must have been a misunderstanding.

On Kinga Penjor, the PM said he had called him and though Kinga like some others said they are willing to serve if given the chance he said that the final decision is with the PM. The PM said that even after the decision was known Kinga called and congratulated the decision.

The six MPs who were in contention and were nominated were Jurmi Wangchuk, Ugen Tenzin, Dawa Tangpa, Karma Dorji, Kinga Penjor and Kinley Wangchuk.

A MP on the condition of anonymity said that the PM did not need to consult the 15 candidates who are outside Parliament as this was just a ploy to get support for Karma Dorji. The MP said that it is actually just the business of the elected MPs.

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