Business Bhutan recently reported that the prime minister had expressed his frustrations over interpretations of the constitution that were undermining the government’s work. The PM was quoted as saying:
I feel very emotional because we are the democratically elected government with a huge majority which means people have placed their trust fully in us but every time we want to do something the book is being thrown at us.
Our PM is correct. 67% of the electorate voted for DPT, and gave them, the ruling party, 45 of the 47 seats in the National Assembly. Yes, the government was elected by a “huge majority.” And yes, that means the “people have placed their trust fully” in the government.
But the people’s trust in the government, while overwhelming, does not give them carte blanche – a blank cheque to do as they please. Instead, the people expect, and the Constitution requires, the government to function in accordance with the laws of the land.
In his first state of the Nation address, 18 months ago, the PM had announced that the Constitution should not be used as a lagdep, i.e., a manual or guidebook. This is how I had responded to the PM’s concerns:
Our Prime Minister expressed concerns that the Constitution is being used as a detailed manual. And that interpreting the Constitution in rigid and narrow terms undermines good governance and weakens the government. He also reported that we should not unnecessarily invoke and test the Constitution.
I disagree. I firmly believe that we should constantly refer to the Constitution. And that, even if we don’t understand any other law, we should study the Constitution thoroughly. After all, the Constitution is the mother of all laws in Bhutan.
If disagreements arise in the interpretation of the Constitution – and they will be many differences – they should be discussed amicably and with the understanding that all parties involved want nothing but what is best for our country and our people. And, naturally, if these disagreements cannot be resolved the option to take the matter to the courts is always there.
If we feel that the government’s actions are in line with the Constitution, we must support them, especially if the actions are good for the country and the people.
But if we feel that the government’s actions may not necessarily be good for the country and the people, we must raise our voices.
And if we feel that the government’s actions are unconstitutional, we must “throw the book” at them.