Impostor!

Impersonating anyone on social media is easy. All that’s needed is to create an account using that person’s name, photo and other relevant information. And the impersonator is in business.

We’ve seen one person impersonate the prime minister on Twitter. And another person, also on Twitter, has been going around as MP Tshering Penjor. More recently, someone has opened a Facebook page pretending to be me.

I don’t mind impersonators on social media, especially if their purpose is to expose and make fun of the stupidity and excesses of public officials. This type of satire could generate much-needed laughter, while also subtly passing on important messages to the public as well as the targeted official.

But it’s dangerous, and unacceptable, when impersonators become impostors. The purpose of impersonators is to entertain and to poke fun at public officials. The purpose of impostors is to deceive and mislead the public.

The person who pretends to be me on Facebook is an impostor. That impostor has used my name with my photograph to deceive my Facebook followers that Bhutanomics is run by PDP and The Bhutanese. In fact, that impostor even misled BBS into believing that it was really me.

I’ve expressed my views, even very critical ones, openly and honestly during my term as MP. I’ve done so in the Parliament, in the media, when interacting with the public, and on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. I do not need (thankfully) the cover of anonymity to discharge my duties as a member of the opposition party. And no, I do not have any thing to do with Bhutanomics.

I wrote about Bhutanomics because I’m against illegal censorship. But there’s a bigger reason I wrote about it:  I’m frightened that any one who can order the illegal closure of a website could also, just as easily, order phone conversations to be tapped and SMS messages to be tracked, illegally.

 

A birthday greeting

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

On the joyous occasion of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk’s 33rd birth anniversary, the People’s Democratic Party joins the nation in offering our deepest respects, heartfelt felicitations and prayers for His Majesty’s long life and a long prosperous reign.

Long Live the Druk Gyalpo!

Bhutan has been blessed with a succession of enlightened monarchs – selfless and benevolent kings who have always placed the interest of the nation above all else. They have ensured the peace, security and stability of our country; they have bestowed liberty, justice and happiness on our people.

Bhutan continues to be blessed. At a time when our people were enjoying unprecedented peace, prosperity and happiness, His Majesty the King blessed us with democracy. He then worked tirelessly to ensure that the transition to democracy is smooth. When we, the people, were unsure about democracy, His Majesty gave us assurance. When we were confused, His Majesty gave us inspiration. And when the political system seemed to flounder, His Majesty provided steadfast support and counsel.

That is why, within a very short time, the foundations of our democracy have already become unshakable.

On our part, His Majesty’s birth anniversary is an opportune occasion to dedicate ourselves to take democracy forward, and so serve the Tsawa Sum. Political parties, their members and candidates can do so by committing themselves to genuine nation-building instead of pursuing narrow political interests. Civil servants and the clergy can do so by remaining truly apolitical. And, most importantly, every Bhutanese can do so by fulfilling their sacred responsibility to vote in the upcoming elections. The best gift we can offer His Majesty today would be the pledge that we will take our democracy seriously.

Two months ago, on December 17th, during our National Day celebrations, His Majesty the King called on the nation to participate in the upcoming elections “as candidates, members of parties and voters.”

Today, on His Majesty’s birth anniversary, it would be befitting on our part to commit to do so … as a simple, yet heartfelt birthday gift.

Long Live the Druk Gyalpo!

Illegal censorship

Loud and clear

Loud and clear

Bhutanomics is a political satire blog set up by “Bhutan analyzers” who are committed to keeping a check on the “ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.”

The blog was launched in March, last year. And within no time, they attracted a large and faithful following which seemed to keep growing. Traffic to the blog was so high that the administrators were forced to upgrade and expand their website infrastructure several times.

Then, all of a sudden, on 12 January, Bhutanomics went dead. Their website was inaccessible. In fact, users of Tashi’s or Samden’s ISPs could access it. And anyone outside the country could access it. The website could also be accessed using anonymous proxy servers.But anyone using the Druknet’s internet services could not access the website.

Druknet is Bhutan’s biggest ISP. And Druknet is a government-owned company.

Most followers were convinced that Druknet had blocked Bhutanomics. But Druknet denied it. The information and communication secretary and BICMA, the media’s regulator, also denied any involvement in blocking Bhutanomics. And the cabinet secretary denied issuing any order to block the website.

Yet, Bhutanomics was not accessible. And full access to it was reinstated only only after the outpouring of public outrage threatened to grow. The controversial website is back online. But all is not well. All cannot be considered to be well until the perpetrators of the blatant censorship of Bhutanomics are exposed and bought to full account.

I’m reproducing below the full interview between Bhutanomics and Kuensel with the hope that we reflect on what happened; that we continue to ask questions; and that we commit to fighting any and all forms of illegal censorship. 

 

Q. Well firstly, I haven’t yet confirmed with Druknet/BICMA if Bhutanomics is indeed blocked, but attempts to access it so far seem to indicate it is.

A. Bhutanomics hasn’t been accessible in Bhutan since 12 Jan 2013. Strange thing is its still viewable through a proxy server.

Just as a precaution, have you checked with your own web host to eliminate any technical reasons?

Our website is firing on all cylinders. Bhutanomics is accessible everywhere in the world except Bhutan. Why would we spend precious little money we have to run a website that doesn’t work?

If it is indeed blocked, like what happened to the previous version of Bhutan Times, then my question to you would be whether you think this censorship of free speech, and why?

Obviously it is. Bhutanomics is not like the old website bhutantimes. In that most of the focus was on anti-national rhetoric by people in the camps. Only prior to the 2008 elections did bhutantimes begin to approach domestic politics and that was restricted to bashing one main person contesting for prime minister. We suppose, if Bhutanomics did that i.e. bash someone other than the ruling government (we could even bash the country it seems) we would not be banned. We would be welcomed.

As you can see Bhutanomics has no affiliation. Everyone is a fair target. Everyone is allowed to contribute. The central theme is that we care for the country and each article is about something that makes us worried, whether it is bad policy or personality flaws or sheer stupidity on the part of those in power.

If you aspire to positions of power, you must be able to take the brickbats. In America, groups have questioned openly the very citizenship of the president.

If the PM can take unlimited praise such as “JYT phenomenon”, “world statesman”, “no other leader like him”, “solver of the Amochu problem,” and so on, then he should be able to accept that there are others who think otherwise.

If meetings and conferences were open and criticism and argument were permitted instead of avenged by the government (such as with many civil servants, dzongdags and newspapers) then Bhutanomics may be unnecessary.

But with the lack of space for free criticism we have to resort to this.

By banning us, the ruling government has joined that very special group of governments in North Korea, Cuba, China, Syria, etc., where there is censorship of the internet.

How would you respond to comments that some material on your website is defamatory/personal attacks/perhaps could undermine a free and fair elections?

The stories that we have published are all contributed by people – people who are concerned about the state of the country. We just provide the platform and the security for those people to express themselves.

The parts considered unbearable by those in power are what in other countries is called satire and lampooning. Check out NDTV’s political cartoon or The Onion in the US or the numerous ones in the UK.

Banning criticism is really the situation where free and fair elections are not possible.

What is the purpose of Bhutanomics? And when was it established?

We have been around since the beginning of 2012. We think of ourselves as the Bhutan analyzers who try to keep up with the happenings in the corridors of power. We try to keep a check on the ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.

Given presence of proxy servers, Facebook, and Twitter, does such a block really matter to you?

The block proves that our government cannot stand any form of criticism. That matters to us. If they are sincerely doing their duty why would they be averse to criticism?

Yes proxy servers means people can still read bhutanomics but that’s not the point. If people feel a certain way about something they should be allowed to say it. Why block them? It’s a futile exercise. You can’t block the internet in this day and age. Instead the government should read between the lines of the satire and try to correct their mistakes.

Entitlement urgency

Most of you sided with the government’s proposal to force early elections that I wrote about in Dissolving the government. Thank you for your comments. (For the record, PDP would benefit from early elections too. Unlike the three new parties, we already have a presence in all 20 dzongkhags. And that means that early elections would almost assure us of getting past the primary round.)

By law, the government can recommend the premature dissolution of the National Assembly. So I have no problem with the legality of the government’s proposal. It’s the principle that concerns me. If the government’s proposal to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term is motivated by the national good, I’m all for it. If, on the other hand, the government is motivated by narrow political interests, I’m concerned.

I happen to believe that it’s the latter. I believe that the government is forcing early elections to prevent the new parties from establishing themselves and taking away votes from the ruling party. I believe that the government wants to sweep the elections with little or no opposition. I believe that the government is intent on clinging on to power.

But let’s move on.

In his inaugural address, the speaker also announced that the Parliamentary Entitlement Act would be introduced for amendment during this session.

Now here, we run into trouble, both by law and by principle.

Section 30 of the Parliamentary Entitlement Act states that, “A member of Parliament upon retirement on completion of his term of five years shall be entitled to such amount of gratuity as may be provided for under this Act.”  And according to Section 31, “… No gratuity shall be payable if a member retires before the completion of his term or if his services are terminated.”

If the National Assembly is dissolved before the completion of its term, we, MPs, will not have completed our term of five years, and, as such, will not be entitled to collect gratuity. Hence, the urgency to revise the Parliamentary Entitlement Act.

Amending the Parliamentary Entitlement Act just to benefit ourselves is questionable, on principle. But it is also questionable, again on principle, because the the National Assembly  rejected the Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Bill which was passed by the National Council less than a year ago, in the last session of the Parliament.

And that’s where amending the Parliamentary Entitlement Act in this session could run into trouble with the law.

According to Section 193 of the National Assembly Act, “When a Bill has been passed or has been rejected during a session in any year, no Bill of the same substance may be introduced in the Assembly in that year except by leave of the Assembly.” The Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Act was rejected in the 9th Session, so we should not be allowed to discuss it in the 10th Session. Unless, that is, the Assembly considers this a serious enough matter to merit discussion even though a year has not passed since rejecting the Bill.

But even if the National Assembly goes ahead and amends the Parliamentary Entitlement Act in this session, the amended bill can only be considered by the National Council in the next session of the Parliament. That won’t be possible, as this session is the last session of this Parliament.

If any amendment to the Parliamentary Entitlement Act is to be passed in this session itself, the amendment bill must be introduced as an “urgent bill”. But for that, the question we will need to ask ourselves is this: does the entitlement of members of Parliament amount to a national urgency?

 

End violence against women!

Today is Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate love. The simple and pure message of love transcends all society, and so the Day is observed by all, all over the world.

This Valentine’s Day is special because the world is also observing the One Billion Rising, a call for one billion women and all men who support women’s rights to walk out of offices and homes to “strike, rise and dance!”

Bhutan will also join the noble cause. And, in true Bhutanese spirit, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck will lead the way, offering prayers and butterlamps at Tashichhodzong. I urge supporters and well-wishers to follow Her Majesty’s exemplary leadership to honour our women by committing to eradicate violence against them by participating in the simplen but sacred ceremony at the Tashichhodzong.

I call on everyone – each and every Bhutanese – to join Her Majesty the Queen Mother, to join One Billion Rising, to put an end to violence against our women.

Violence against women is against our religion. It is against our culture. It is against the law.

Let’s join hands to put an immediate end to this unacceptable scourge.

Dissolving the government

In his inaugural address last Friday, the Speaker announced that the government has proposed for the early dissolution of the National Assembly.

According to Article 10, Section 24 of the Constitution:

“… While the National Council shall complete its five-year term, premature dissolution of the National Assembly may take place on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to the Druk Gyalpo …”

So yes, the government can recommend the dissolution of the National Assembly before the completion of its term.

The government can do so. But they should not. Why? Because, the government is forcing early elections for their own narrow interests, not for the greater interests of the nation. And that is a bad precedent.

The government’s main excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the monsoons would interfere with the elections – is nonsense. That’s for ECB to decide, not the government. And the ECB has not even hinted that the monsoons could compromise their ability to conduct this year’s elections.

The government’s other excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the 11th Five Year Plan would suffer – is absurd. Surely, forcing early elections by 4 to 5 weeks cannot affect a whole five-year plan. Besides, an interim government along with the entire civil service will continue working on the 11th Plan during the three months leading up to the elections.

The government should be honest. They should admit that they want to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term to force early elections. And that they want to force early elections to ensure an easy, perhaps even complete, victory in the upcoming elections.

The ruling party is ready for the elections. During the past six months, the government and their MPs have used their powers of incumbency to prepare for the elections. On the other hand, the new parties have only just received permission to “introduce” themselves to the people. To make matters worse, all the other parties, including the opposition, are still scrambling to finalize their candidates for the elections.

Early elections would favour the ruling party disproportionately. If they want to use that advantage, that’s their business. But they should not pull the wool over our eyes, they should not mislead the nation.

One more thing, the ruling party should remember that the people elected them to serve a five-year term. By dissolving the National Assembly ahead of its term, for their immediate electoral gain and not for the overall national good, they are essentially defaulting on their mandate to serve the people for five complete years. And that is a terrible precedent.

Inviting questions

The 10th and final session of the 1st Parliament got underway last Friday. During this session, the National Assembly will discuss just two bills: Contract Bill of Bhutan, and Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill. In addition, the National Assembly will consider the National Council’s comments on Road Bill and Domestic Violence Prevention Bill which were adopted by the Assembly in the 9th session. The Disaster Management Bill will be discussed in a joint sitting to iron out differences between the two houses.

Question Hour, when MPs get to question the government, are held on Tuesdays and Fridays. I’ve prepared some questions, but I’d like to hear from you as well. What question(s) would you like to ask? And to whom would you like them directed ? I’ll try to incorporate as many of your questions as possible in the opposition party’s questions.

Happy Losar!

nagini-crn

Chime R. Namgyal’s “Nagini”

I am guilty. My last post was on November 23. That means that I have not updated my blog for about two and half months – 79 days to be exact. That’s a long break. I took the break to collect my thoughts. I also took the break to focus on party matters – to consult and work more closely with my PDP colleagues in the lead-up to this year’s elections. I’m happy to report that, so far, our journey to the 2013 elctions is proceeding well. So far, so good.

I have been very fortunate that my blog has received a following far greater than I actully deserve. In fact, many of you have kept visiting this website even though I was not able to update it regularly. I want to thank all of you for visiting, and for participating in and adding to the discussions here, regardless of whether you subscribe to my views or not.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been looking forward to writing again, and, for that, I’ve been thinking about an appropraite day to restart. Today is the first day of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar. Today is losar. So it is as good a day as any to revive this blog, and to reconnect with my readers again.

On this Losar, I would like to wish all of you, your family members and friends, and all your loved ones a very Happy Losar! May my losar greetings bring you peace, prosperity and happiness. May the Year of the Female Water Snake inspire you to achieve your aspirations and fulfill your dreams.

On this Losar, let us remember the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed since Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel united Bhutan, and under the golden reign of our successive monarchs. Let us celebrate the leadership of our monarchs who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to give us a kingdom that we are justifiably proud of.

On this Losar, let us remind ourselves of the sacred responsibility we shoulder – to contribute to making our democracy a success. Before 2008, all of us were united in our reluctance to welcome democracy in our country. But we were also united in accepting it because it was given to us, as a gift from the Golden Throne. Now we must again stand united, each and every one of us, in carrying out our sacred democratic responsibilities, foremost among which is to make sure we vote.

As elections draw near, we must remind ourselves to make our votes count. Your one vote can be the difference between having the right member of parliament or not. More importantly, it can be the differnce between having the government of your choice or not. And most importantly, it could be the difference between whether you get the future of your choice or not.

In 2008, almost 80% of the electorate voted. It is a figure all of us should be proud of. No other liberal democracy can boast of such a huge voter turnout. The extraordinary turnout clearly indicated that our electorate knew the importance of the ballot and was willing to exercise it. That said, not as many voters turned up for the local elections held in the last two years. And that should concern all of us.

Therefore, on this Losar, I would like to call on all my fellow citizens – my brothers and sisters – to commit to exercising your democratic franchise. Think of voting as a duty, a sacred duty, and not a privilege. I hope that all of you would have already decided to vote … in the NC elections, in the primary elections and in the general elections. And please spread the message. Encourage your friends to vote. Encourage your family to vote. Encourage your neighbours to vote.

On this Losar, I would also like to remind all politicians and political parties to keep the interest of the nation above all other things. I am proud of my fellow politicians and more so of all the aspiring politicians, and I am sure that all of us will work to make our Kings and our people proud. Still, I would like to urge our politicians to put personal differences aside, and focus on the important business of nation-building instead.

I am sure my politician friends would agree that we are not in politics to win at any cost. We are not in it to hold on to power at any cost. Instead, we are in it to build stronger Bhutan. We are in it to build a better Bhutan. We are in it to build a country of our dreams.

On this Losar, let us commit to making the Female Water Snake Year a year of destiny for Bhutan. I am confident that each and every one of us will do our part in the upcoming national elections. I am confident that we will vote, that we will vote responsibly, and that we will vote for the change that we can believe in. And I am confident that, with the blessings of Guru Rimpoche, the protection of our guardian deities, and the guidance of our beloved Kings, we will secure an even better and brighter future for Bhutan.

HAPPY LOSAR ONCE AGAIN!

The banner features a detail of Chime R Namgyal’s depiction of a “Nagini” that he created for Tashi Delek, Druk Air’s inflight magazine.

 

Ache Lhamo

Sonam Dorji, 12 years, Class 5
Rinzin Norbu, 12 years, Class 4
Sangay Dorji, 12 years, Class 4
Namgay Chojay, 13 years, Class 4
Thinley Norbu, 11 years, Class 4

These five students go to Monmola community primary school, in distant Serti gewog, in the Shingkhar Lauri region. And boy, they can dance. I met them during my recent tour to Jumotshangkha, in the eastern-most part of our country. And they honoured me with an active performance of the very lively Ache Lhamo chham. 

The students say they took over a month to learn the historic Ache Lhamoi chham. They were taught by two farmers, Lobsang and Yeshey, both renowned dancers themselves, before and after school every day. The farmer-teachers proudly explained that they volunteered their services to promote their culture and heritage, and to add value to their children’s education.

The Ache Lhamoi chham, one of the teachers told me, has over 100 separate movements which would take several days to perform. What the students showcased was just one movement, and an abbreviated one at that. Enjoy…

I’ve lifted the following description of the Ache Lhomoi dance  from the Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage. It was written by Lopen Phuntsho Gyeltshen of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts.

Ache Lhamo or Ashe Lhamo is regarded more as drama rather than dance, but many scholars accept it as dance-drama flourished in Bhutan since a long time back.

The characteristics
Ache Lhamo literally means Sister Goddess or Lady Goddess. This is performed by herdsmen once a year in keeping with the local customs. It tells or relates stories of people famed for their piety and miraculous achievements be it spiritual or temporal. The repertoire of this art was not very broad and the style of presentation cultivated by each group varies, although the overall performance of the general framework is the same. The dance by one man and a woman is accompanied by the rhythm of the cymbal and beating of the large-sided drum, while the story unfolds in operatic recitative and chorus. Aside from the main performance comic scenes are acted with great brilliance.

The Merak Saktenpa people perform this dance-drama once a year, for five days at a time. Apart from the yearly festival, Ache Lhamo is performed, at some great monastery or wealthy noble’s house and other special events of national importance.

History
The Tibetan saint and the bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo, in the 14th century, began his project of building iron bridges over many big rivers in Tibet. To provide adequate provisions for the laborers he developed an interesting means for collecting donations. The Chhongje Bena family with seven daughters was called upon and to each daughter he assigned different roles, while he himself beat the drum. A large audience was gathered and everyone who watched the play enjoyed it very much. This was the first time that drama was introduced in Tibet.

During the late 14th century, the saint expanded his activity of bridge construction over Bhutan, and it is believed that along with him this art traveled to Bhutan.

The saint regarded his building of iron-suspension bridges and related engineering feat as a practical application of thebodhisattva ideal, and his introduction of this dance-drama Ache Lhamo is in no way different from any Buddhist activity. He is also credited for the introduction of other classical dances and folk performing arts.

Disloyal? Unpatriotic?

The opposition party’s statement on the government’s failed UNSC bid drew a strong response from the prime minster. Instead of clarifying the government’s position, or responding to the our request for a full disclosure of the expenses incurred, he called my remarks “disloyal and unpatriotic”.

We will not engage in personal attacks. But we cannot ignore the PM’s malicious assault which was obviously intended to malign the opposition members and undermine institution of the opposition party. So we felt compelled to issue the following  statement to the press last Friday:

 

The Opposition Party deeply regrets the unwarranted remarks of the Honourable Prime Minister during the recent press conference in which he labeled the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal” for expressing his views on the failed UN Security Council bid, and for calling on the Government to review its foreign policy.

By calling the Opposition Leader “disloyal and unpatriotic” the Honourable Prime Minister seems to have no respect and regard for the institution of the Opposition Party or the duty of the Opposition Party as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Honourable Prime Minister’s derogatory remarks indicate that while the Government wants to take all the credit for any success, it does not want to be held accountable or face criticism for any of its failures.

The Opposition Party is not surprised that the Prime Minister has gone on record to term the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal”. Such incidences have occurred before, as when the Government demeaned the Judiciary when they lost the Constitutional Case. Similarly the Government has also undermined the institutions of the ECB, ACC and media on various occasions.

We feel that the Prime Minister’s remarks are an attempt to deflect public attention from the Government’s failed UN Security Council bid and from the series of allegations of corruption that continue plague the Government.

However, the Opposition Party will not be intimidated by the Prime Minster’s derogatory remarks. Instead, we shall continue to discharge our duties faithfully – without fear or favour – in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and in the interest of the country and people.

Accordingly the Opposition Party calls on the Honourable Prime Minister and the Government to take the views and concerns of the Opposition Party constructively, and to recognize that all of us share the common objective of strengthening the nation and fulfilling the aspirations of our people.