Ruling and Opposition Parties uneasy with ECB’s new rules on experienced candidates and showing money for pledges but 3 other parties welcome it

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has come up with new rules that mandate that candidates have to have served in office in the public or private sector with exemplary conduct and performance for five years for the NA and 10 years for the NC.

This is in addition to the existing rules of being 25 years of age and having a Bachelors Degree.

The candidates have to also satisfy the Commission that he or she is a person of integrity, good character and reputation, in accordance with the Framework for Assessment for Candidates Participating in Elections.

They must also have such other qualifications as may be prescribed by the Commission in the Framework.

In terms of manifestos, while political parties already have to submit their manifestos to the ECB for approval there is a new section which says, ‘No political party or candidate shall announce or pledge, whether in a manifesto or campaign pledge or otherwise, any financial grants or projects without disclosing the means of financing such expenditure in any form or promises.’

Another new section says, ‘No political party or candidate shall make any unrealistic or unreasonable pledge or promise, whether in a manifesto or campaign pledge or otherwise, any fiscal or tax or financial changes which may result in reduction of government revenues, without disclosing the means of how the political party or candidate intends to make good such reduction.’

The new rules also say that in evaluating the political parties’ manifestos, the Commission shall have an independent evaluation committee to advise and assist the Commission.

The Bhutanese sought the view of all the Party Presidents of the five registered political parties on the changes being brought in the ‘Rules on Elections Conduct in the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2022’ by the ECB.

DNT

The Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering and President of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) said he has no hard opinions on the matter.

“Yes, the ECB are the authority and when it comes to this authority it is not spelled out about what they can do and cannot do, and I have not critically looked at how the ECB can say five years work experience,” said the DNT President.

He said that graduation is already a huge benchmark in terms of the maturity of candidates and getting a NA party ticket is also another huge benchmark.

He said parties require 47 candidates and there can be parties who require some young graduates among their candidates though it is not to say young graduates are not capable or good.

Lyonchhen said they have not sat with the ECB and asked for justifications or even had a discussion.

“When you say five years and 10 years then does that mean you want aged candidates and does that mean better candidates? Will farming be considered as an experience?  I really don’t know,” said Lyonchhen.

On the issues of pledges Lyonchhen said that this is not something new as the ECB already scrutinizes the pledges of the parties and can question the unreasonable ones.

He said he has no feelings on this, but it all depends on how it will be implemented in detail.

The Foreign Minister Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji had stronger views against the proposals but he said the views are his personal views.

He said though these are good things the question is whether ECB as an agency should be dictating all this or it should come out as a common consensus among the parties in the Bhutan Democracy Dialogue, which is a multi-party forum formed by all the parties.

“When ECB is dictating what should and should not be done then it undermines the concept of democracy,” said Lyonpo.

He said ECB has to carry out its mandate as dictated by the Election Act and it cannot start dictating.

Lyonpo said that on the issue of 10 years’ experience for the NC there was always an argument that it should have more experienced members as the House of Review.

“For the NA I thought 25 years took care of the experience as the five years (after 20) is sufficient time to gain experience,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said the concern is that if additional criteria will be put. “The RBP already gives a NOC of not having a criminal record but who would now give a character certificate. How do you ensure the criteria are met and are not subjective and arbitrary? Will farming count as work experience?”

He said agencies should not be left to decide such things and the Parliament should be taking care of all this.

DPT

The Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi and President of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) had even stronger views against the new rules.

The OL said that he has not formally read the rules but based on what is in the media he said, “First of all we accept that that certain transformation changes can be done from time to time, but having said that any changes in rules must be in keeping with the Acts and nobody for that matter can proposes any new rule not in keeping with the Act or provisions of the Act drawn from the Constitution.”

He said the Constitution says the minimum age for qualification to the NA and NC is 25 and so one cannot make a rule that will directly or indirectly contradict the Election Act and the Constitution.

He said the rules must be lawful and sensible for it to be acceptable. “When you say 10 years work experience for NC then it literally means you should start working at the age of 15 and in the case of NA at the age of 20.”

“If the new rules are in contradiction with the Constitution then nobody can make such rules,” said the OL.

On the promises part he said the role of the ECB is to ensure free and fair elections and this is not within their mandate.

“The Political parties should have the right to have their own ideology, vision, goals, objectives, programs and promises and I don’t think any law provides ECB with the mandate to review political parties on these,” said the OL.

“We all need to learn and be mindful of our respective mandates and not trespass into what is not your mandate or others territory,” said the OL.

When asked about his own party’s past stance against populist pledges especially in the 2018 elections he said that the people should judge the pledges and not the ECB.

“One may say that excessive promises distract from free and fair elections, but it is the duty of people to judge and despite our party’s stand against such pledges I would say it is not the ECB’s role but that of the electorate,” added the OL.

However, contrary to the stance of the ruling and opposition parties the three other parties outside Parliament welcomed the ECB’s new rules.

PDP

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Dasho Tshering Tobgay said, “PDP looks forward to welcoming and supporting any initiatives that will strengthen the electoral system in our collective pursuit to build a vibrant and unique democratic system to fulfil the vision of His Majesty The King and the aspirations of every citizen.”

He said PDP has always ensured that all the candidates have the required experience, skills and knowledge to be able to serve the country.

“In this context, PDP welcomes the 5-year experience requirement of individual candidates.  The PDP also believes this will enable well-educated, mature and capable candidates to be elected which is a prerequisite to enhance people’s confidence in our legislative processes and its outcome, and achieve good governance,” said the PDP President.

 He said PDP also welcome the rules to scrutinise the manifesto and campaign pledges. “We are hopeful that this will curtail shortsighted and unrealistic pledges in the future,” said Dasho.

BKP

The Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) President Sonam K. Tobgay said, “Within the realm of the larger reforms and transformation endeavors going on, ECB must have thought through it well before introducing the new rule. BKP fully supports it ushering in candidates with good experience.”

He also said that pledges that require funding backing is very good in terms of enforcing accountability and ending taking innocent voters for a ride every five years.

DTT

The Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) President Kinga Tshering said the qualifications is in so many ways a very unique initiative in Bhutan. “Personally I support it as political parties is a very serious undertaking and I think a certain level of maturity is required, and experience eventually is a requisite to be a good MP,” said the DTT President.

He said the DTT selection committee has four or five parameters to be a candidate and now this will be an additional criterion.

Kinga said that while every job is serious an MPs job is much more serious as he or she is involved in decision making and risk taking and it is useful to have a real life professional background that involves taking decisions and risks.

The DTT President that that give the huge transformations taking place in the country this will be part of the service to the nation and community and he said while young guys and girls are intelligent somebody with 5 to 10 years’ experience can contribute a lot.

On the issue of pledges, he said he would like to strongly support it otherwise it is a spiraling race to the bottom.

“Different parties in other countries over promise to get votes but then such promises will lead to huge budget deficits,” said the President.

He said in our context fiscal deficit must be below 5 percent and our parties must present the fiscal and monetary policies to develop a healthy economy.

He said Bhutan’s Incremental Capital Ratio (ICR) is very high at 7.5 percent which means it takes 7.5 percent investment to get 1 percent investment return but in other countries the ICR is much better at 4.5 to 2.5 percent. He said Bhutan must be responsible and enhance its productivity.

He said as the ‘new kid on the block’ the rules will be challenging, but they must align with the whole national reforms and at the same time his party offers platform for even young people to be involved.

Other changes

An official on the condition of anonymity said that most of the rules already exist in various rules and the Election Act itself, but the difference is that now they have been brought together and some have been tweaked.

The official said the candidates experience and pledges part is new. The official said that the integrity of a person can be assessed using oversight bodies like Royal Audit Authority (RAA) etc.

On the pledges aspect and the independent committee to advise the ECB on the pledges, the official said the ECB will have to decide on who will be the members but it will be domain experts on finance, economy etc to do a reality check on the pledges.

Apart from the experience and pledges part there are three new changes in the rules.

Elected candidates resigning without good reason have to pay a fine of 360 days’ minimum wage and/or refund the campaign expenses for the parliamentary or local government elections and also be disqualified from all future elections (see story on pg 3).

Another change is that fines have been enhanced for parties and individuals in the penalties section for violating election rules to 120 days’ minimum wage, 300 days’ minimum wage and 600 days’ minimum wage depending on the violations.

Another change is that the rules now have a mechanism to prevent transfer of funds from foreign entities and illegal sources. This will involve the Royal Monetary Authority, Banks, CSO Authority, oversight bodies, Bhutan Post and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Check Also

Tourism numbers improve in first three months of 2024 but a long way to go

The Department of Tourism said Bhutan welcomed 25,003 guests between January and March 2024 which …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *