By S. Chandrasekharan
After many hiccups, the final phase of local elections for the posts of Gups, Mangmis, Tshogpas, Thromde thremis and thromde tshogpas will be taking place on 27 June 2011. There had been considerable delay in holding the elections and it looks that there will be no further postponement.
The delay was due to many reasons. Firstly, it took some time to make the necessary laws for the elections. Then there was the problem of delimiting the constituencies, and finally in what appeared to be a trivial one proved to be the most intractable and the King had to intervene.
Eligibility Clause in the Election Act:
For those watching the smooth progress of democracy, the controversy that arose over the eligibility of the candidates for the local elections was very intriguing. A rigid election Commission which went strictly by the letter of the Act disqualified a large number of aspiring candidates to the local bodies on the ground that those who were party members had not completed the “cooling off period” of one year.
The problem was in the Election Act itself. With a view to ensure that the local bodies are filled with people with no political affiliation, the rules demanded that a registered member of a party (political) intending to stand for local government elections must resign one year before the elections date.
In this it was not enough if the person has just resigned or stopped paying the membership fees or his/her name removed from the list. The Act specifies that the “ de registration of a person’s membership from a political party shall be valid only after one year from the date of application of resignation. The party concerned has to immediately notify the de registration in the print media with a copy to the Election Commission of Bhutan.”
This was a tall order for many of the aspirants to the local bodies who in the initial enthusiasm of party formation in accordance of the new constitution became paying members of political parties though they did not take part in any political activity after the payment of membership fees.
In the end, the King had to intervene personally with a “Kasho” to review the position when 90 of the disqualified candidates personally met the King and appealed against the disqualification.
Two aspects of the election appeared significant. One – the people have taken the local elections very seriously and one could see hectic activity by the candidates and Two: The King does keep a close watch on the developments and does intervene when necessary.
To me it appeared to be a trivial issue and could have been settled by amending the Election Act rather than forcing the King to intervene unless there was a deeper purpose as was made out by the official media- the Kuensel.
In his directive ( Kasho), the King said- “As a King it is my duty at all times to examine not just the issue at hand but also contemplate the long term effect of any decision on the unity, harmony and security of our nation, on the dignity, integrity and strength of the constitution: on the strength of law and growth of a successful democracy in Bhutan.
Without directly asking the government or the ECB to admit the disqualified candidates all that the King said was that the issues should be resolved before proceeding with the local elections as “circumstances are less than conducive for successful local government elections”.
The Election Commission quickly receded from its own rigid position and admitted 54 of the 90 who appealed against disqualification..
The King announces his “bride to be” during the opening session of the Parliament:
On 20th May, the 7th session of the parliament began as usual with the traditional ceremonies with the King giving the opening address. But the session proved to be important in one sense- that the King declared his intention to marry this year Jetsun Pema, who he said is “young, warm and kind in heart and character.”
Jetsun Pema is the second eldest child of the five children born to Sonam Choki and Dhondup Gyaltsen. Gyaltsen was a pilot in Druk Air for 22 years before moving to Bahrain Airways. Jetsun’s mother- Sonam Choki’s father is the half brother of their late majesties Mayum Phuntso Choden and Mayum Pema Dechan.
Born in Thimpu on June 4, 1990, Jetsun Pema did her schooling in Kalimpong and then pursued her studies at Regent’s College, UK, majoring in international relations with minors in psychology and art history.
In the parliament while announcing his intention to marry, the King said that he had asked the government not to plan for a grand celebration. Yet, come October, it is going to be a “grand affair”.