A major difference between the current Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering and his two predecessors before him is that, unlike them, he will not be the DNT Party President.
The origin of DNT’s decision to have a separate Prime Minister and President stems from its Party Charter under section 9.2 that outlines the responsibilities of the Party President.
The section says, “The President of the Party shall not hold both the post of the Party President and the post of the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader, as and when the check and balance in the Party is deemed necessary by the CEC (Central Executive Committee). If the Party wins, the nominee(s) for the post of the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader need not be limited to the Party President.”
This section of the charter gives the power to the party’s executive committee to decide if a separate PM and Party President is needed. The DNT party has made its mind known by already publicly announcing that it will later elect a separate President.
The Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering said that he is the head of the government of Bhutan and so he cannot function and hold the post of the Party President at the same time.
The Bhutanese also talked to the two of DNT’s executive committee members and founders Dr Tandin Dorji who is also the party Spokesperson and Tenzin Lekphell.
Both Dr Tandin and Tenzin Lekphell them stressed that having a separate Party President would free up and allow the Prime Minister to look after the government and developmental activities while the Party President is focused on party related activities.
They also said that a separate Party President would enable the party to provide check and balance to the government.
The two in response to question on the mater admitted that the separation of the two posts would also avoid an excessive concentration of power in one person like in the case of PDP and DPT.
However, both also pointed out that the issue of the separation of the two posts was there in the charter from the beginning and was a well known issue from well before.
PDP’s President and former Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay and DPT’s former President and Prime Minister Dasho Jigmi Y. Thinley both combined the positions of the President and Prime Minister and in doing so enjoyed close to absolute power within their respective parties.
The current Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho is also the DPT Party President and calls the shots within DPT.
The DNT in its words and actions so far has made it clear that it a more collaborative and consensus based party and wants to avoid the PDP and DPT examples of having a single boss.
However, this raises the natural question of if DNT could end up a twin or parallel power centre between the Prime Minister and the Party President with both competing for influence.
Here Tenzin Lekphell responding to a question on the possibility of such a tussle said, “To prevent any issues, there should be a clear Terms of Reference right from the start and the two (PM and President) should trust each other. Things can only get messy if people get greedy for power or want to overtake each other, but this will not happen with DNT.”
Dr Tandin also ruled out the possibility of a parallel power structure within DNT. He elaborated saying that within the government and cabinet the Prime Minister has full say as ministers will be accountable to him for their performance and he can even transfer and remove ministers.
He said that since the Party President will be somebody outside the Parliament he will have no influence on the government and its day to day activities.
Dr Tandin said that the Party President will work on strengthening the party, building up its membership base, engaging with the candidates and conducting other party activities.
He also pointed out that the Party President would have to work through the party’s executive committee and so there would be no individual or rival power bases within DNT.
The next obvious question is on if the DNT Party President will only be a ceremonial role with all the effective powers being with the Prime Minister and the cabinet.
Here a senior DNT leader on the condition of anonymity said, “The focus for the next one to two months will be on forming the government and allowing it to settle and only after that the issue of electing a Party President will come up.”
“Potential contenders for the Party President post within DNT will only show interest if the President has some genuine powers and responsibilities otherwise if all the authority is in the cabinet then there will not be much interest,” he added.
In response to a question on the authority of the President, Dr Tandin clarified saying that the Party President and party would remind and check and balance the government if it its going of its main vision of ‘Narrowing the Gap.’
He said that the Party President would have the final authority to remove a member or MP from the party if the party decides to terminate anyone’s membership.
To get an idea of the current set up of the DNT its most important decision to shortlist ministerial candidates is being taken by the party executive committee.
The committee is supposed to have 15 members as per it charters but currently it has seven members and these are Dr Lotay Tshering, Dr Tandin Dorji, Tenzin Lekphell, General Secretary Phurba, DNT’s Nanglam candidate Karma Dorji, Nima Tshering and Dasho Sherub Gyaltshen.
The executive committee initially came up with a list of the 10 ministerial candidates with portfolios and submitted it to the Prime Minister.
However, the DNT scrapped the first list and decided to come up with a second list of 14 ministerial candidates with various portfolio options and the final decision is with the Prime Minister to select the final ten and assign ministries.
However, it has been understood that the new PM has consulted the executive committee to get feedback for the final 10 and the final portfolios though the final decision is that of the PM.
However, there could be twist in the tale of this dual arrangement that favors the Prime Minister and the cabinet more. Dr Tandin said that the term of the Party President and others in the party is for three years and there is the possibility of Dr Lotay Tshering assuming the dual charge of the President’s post after three years to lead the party into the 2023 elections.
In the past the trend has been for power to flow away from the party office after the elections and to the cabinet given the limited role for political parties and their functionaries.
The coming weeks and months ahead will show how effectively this dual arrangement and efforts at an internal party democracy will work within DNT.