Several readers have repeatedly asked me why the opposition party had not taken the ECB to court for disregarding the Constitution during the recent thromde elections.
“Guardian”, for example, has argued that since the opposition had taken the government to court for violating the Constitution, it should, by the same measure, also take the ECB to court for allowing candidates to stand for election even though they had not been registered in their respective constituencies for the minimum one-year period. And
Since I hadn’t responded to these concerns, “Guardian” challenged, on several posts, that “by going against the government proved only one thing and that OL was protecting his well off and well connected cronies”.
And demanded to know “Why is the OL happy to let the ECB do things that are in complete contravention of the constitution and yet is willing to take the government to court even when he knows that the raising of vehicle tax would affect the rich more than the poor of Bhutan.”
I know that no amount of explaining will satisfy “Guardian”, simply because “Guardian”, whoever he or she is, understands the Constitution and the democratic process very well.
“Guardian” is fully aware that the constitutional case was about the procedure of imposing taxes, and not about objections to any particular tax, including the tax of vehicles.
“Guardian” is also fully aware of the opposition party’s roles and responsibilities set down in Article 18 of the Constitution:
- The Opposition Party shall play a constructive role to ensure that the Government and the ruling party function in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, provide good governance and strive to promote the national interest and fulfil the aspirations of the people.
- The Opposition Party shall promote national integrity, unity and harmony, and co-operation among all sections of society.
- The Opposition Party shall endeavour to promote and engage in constructive and responsible debate in Parliament while providing healthy and dignified opposition to the Government.
- The Opposition Party shall not allow party interests to prevail over the national interest. Its aim must be to make the Government responsible, accountable and transparent.
- The Opposition Party shall have the right to oppose the elected Government, to articulate alternative policy positions and to question the Government’s conduct of public business.
- The Opposition Party shall aid and support the Government in times of external threat, natural calamities and such other national crises when the security and national interest of the country is at stake.
By Article 18, it is the duty of the opposition party to ensure that the government does not violate the Constitution. That’s why we took the government to court for violating the Constitution.
But what if ECB, other constitutional bodies, or independent agencies violate the Constitution? Can the opposition take them to court? I don’t think so. The Constitution does not empower the opposition to ensure that they function in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. That check and balance is provided in other parts of the Constitution, including Article 13 – Impeachment.
So why did the opposition party write to the ECB when it risked violating the Constitution? Because Article 8 Section 11 of the Constitution requires that “Every person shall have the duty and responsibility to respect and abide by the provisions of this Constitution”.
The opposition party, like any other citizen, can write to the ECB alerting them of violations of the Constitution. And that’s what we did.
But taking them to court is another matter. The opposition party may not have the legal mandate to do so. And that’s why we’ve kept quiet.