The National Council election race in 2018 is turning out to be an important barometer for the state of Bhutanese democracy- and from all the indications so far, the signs are encouraging.
The first positive sign is the record number of candidates who came forward, of which 127 are in the final round.
This is an incredible change from the first 2008 NC elections where five Dzongkhags either did not have any candidate or had only a single candidate.
There was an increase in the 2013 polls, but the numbers now have almost doubled from the 2013 race and tripled from the 2008 race.
This is in the context that normally the NC is considered to be the ‘less interesting’ race given that the government is formed by the National Assembly race.
The NC in its 10 years so far has give a good account for itself. It played an important review role right from the start of democracy in 2008 when the ruling government came in with a brute majority of 45 seats.
As it found its role, it has started playing a far more active and important role.
The voters and candidates seem to be aware of the importance of NC, apart from the increased enthusiasm. This indicates not only a deepening of democracy but also a better understanding of it.
The Constitution says that apart from its legislative functions the NC shall act as the House of review on matters affecting the security and sovereignty of the country and the interests of the nation and the people that need to be brought to the notice of the Druk Gyalpo, the Prime Minister and the National Assembly.
The NC had indeed met the above role especially so in the last five years as both the house and the chair have taken the initiative on many fronts.
One that must be mentioned here is getting Dantak and Imtrat’s non uniformed workers registered in the immigration and labour system.
The other here is asking timely and important questions of BBIN and rejecting it in its current form.
The NC has also been important in questioning the various treaties and agreements that Bhutan sometimes gets into without adequate research.
The NC is a perfect house for the nation’s security and interest review as it is not linked to the ruling government in any way. It is a perfect counterfoil to any political pressure, external or internal, that can otherwise be brought to bear on the government of the day.
The fact that it is also free of partisan political interests means that its members also also play an important review role in drafting legislation.
The NC has also taken up a number of important policy review measures and brought several issues to the attention of the nation and the government.
A heartening aspect of the NC race is the multiple choices available to the voters from an array of different backgrounds and experiences.
At the same time the NC must always guard against any attempts at politicization in its ranks where certain political parties unofficially back certain candidates. This may be a good political strategy in the short term but it will have very negative consequences in the long run.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.
Franklin D. Roosevelt