Politics of LG elections

The local government elections are over. And the new gups – the heads of local governments – have started taking their charge throughout the country.

But a dozen gewogs still don’t have gups.

Goenshari in Punakha yielded a two-way tie. The election results in Bjabcho in Chukha was nullified as the winning candidate turned out to be overaged. And elections for Gongdue in Mongar could not be conducted as the lone candidate was disqualified for violating electoral laws.

So elections for Goenshari’s two candidates will be repeated. And elections will be conducted in Bjabcho and Gondue.

The remaining 9 gewogs don’t have gups yet, because the election results in these gewogs are being contested. And cases have been registered against the winning gups of these 9 gewogs.

I find one of these cases particularly disturbing. The winning gup of Tendu, Samtse has been alleged to have received help from an uncle who apparently is a DPT party worker.

If this is true, it is a flagrant violation of electoral laws. Local governments are nonpartisan. And political parties should not attempt to influence local governments in any way.

The Samtse dzongkhag court will, no doubt, hear the case carefully.

But because a political party has allegedly been involved, it may also make sense for the Election Commission to investigate the case separately.

CDG giveaway

Looking for power

During a recent meeting with gups, the PM reminded the local government leaders that, “The constituency development grant of Nu 2M … was not fully used in most gewogs”. And he advised them to put the CDG “… to use to benefit the poor and contribute towards alleviating poverty.”

The PM makes it sound like local governments have full authority over CDG. They don’t.

Firstly, local governments cannot decide how to use the CDG. They can only submit project proposals. The proposals must ultimately be approved by their MPs. And the ministry of finance can release CDG funds to gewogs only at the instructions of MPs.

And secondly, CDGs are earmarked for National Assembly constituencies. Each constituency is made up of a group of gewogs. Most gups have no idea how the CDG will divided, and how much their respective gewogs will receive. That decision seems to lie exclusively with the MP.

The government should be concerned that most gewogs have not used CDG fully. If that concern is genuine, the government should hand over full and complete authority of the CDG to local governments. There’s really no need to involve MPs.

Otherwise, and in spite of what the PM has said, most gewogs will still not be able to make full use of the CDG. In which case, something else should concern the PM: that his MPs may purposely delay use of CDG till 2012 in order to extract maximum political mileage. The next general elections, after all, is in 2013.

Photo credit: Kuensel

Well done ECB

The Election Commission of Bhutan have now completed seven rounds of elections. Of the seven, last Monday’s local government elections was by far the largest and most complex. It was also the most successful.

ECB officials, including those in the dzongkhags, worked round the clock, for months on end, to organize the elections. They were assisted by about 150 senior civil servants who were on deputation since early April this year to work as observers and returning officers.

And more than 5,500 election officials, most of them teachers, were trained and dispatched to man the 1,103 polling stations located throughout our country.

In addition, thousands of workers contributed their services indirectly. They were the ones who kept our roads open, telephones working, banks running and electricity functioning. Plus countless security personal worked to ensure the safety of the elections.

On poll day, despite the rains, a decent 56% of registered voters turned up to cast their ballots. Of the 2,185 candidates who contested the elections, 1,105 won becoming gups, mangmis, tshogpas and thromde thuemis in accordance with the Constitution.

The mammoth exercise cost the State Nu 225 million. But the election is worth the money. And worth the time. And the huge effort.

Why? Because the Constitution requires “… elected Local Governments to facilitate the direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being”. And that, in short, is what our democracy is all about.

Incidentally, the first elections that the ECB conducted was the “mock elections” on 21st April 2007 in which “Druk Yellow Party” and “Druk Red Party” emerged as the two leading parties.

On 28th May 2007, ECB conducted another “mock election” in which the “Druk Yellow Party” trounced the “Druk Red Party” winning 46 of the 47 constituencies.

On 31st December 2007, the ECB conducted the National Council elections, which became the first elections to be conducted under the Constitution. On 29th January 2008, National Council elections were held for the 5 dzongkhags that did not have sufficient candidates earlier.

On 24th March 2008, the first general elections to the National Assembly was conducted in which DPT clobbered the PDP winning 45 of the 47 constituencies.

And on 21st January 2011, Thromde elections were conducted in the four so-called “Class A” thromdes.

The banner, featuring voters in Meewang gewog’s Khasatrapchu polling station, celebrates the successes of the Election Commission of Bhutan.

Inappropriate

The Budget Appropriation Bill for 2011-12 proposes how Nu 42,174 million of the government’s Consolidated Fund will be divided during the coming financial year.

Central agencies will keep a good 74% of the funds.

The 20 dzongkhags together will get about 20% of the funds.

And the 205 gewogs combined will get barely 6% of the funds. And that includes money to build farm roads. Take away farm road construction, and the winners of the forthcoming local government elections will have very little money to fulfill their campaign promises.

Royal Kasho on LG elections

The Prime Minister, on behalf of the National Council, National Assembly and two political parties, has brought before me the issue of the candidates disqualified from participating in Local Government elections.

The 90 disqualified candidates have also jointly submitted an appeal on the same issue.

The members of the National Council have submitted their concerns on the relaxation of the one-year mitsi requirement for candidates in Local Government elections.

As King, it is my duty at all times, to examine not just the issue at hand, but to 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 the growth of a successful democracy in Bhutan.

In the interest of unity and harmony, I have always encouraged close consultation and cooperation between different branches and agencies of government; between institutions and the public; and among our people themselves. Bhutan is a small country so we must always seek ways to sit together, face to face in the spirit of brotherhood and with unity of purpose, to resolve all issues. We must take advantage of our strength as a small close-knit society. The submissions made by the Prime Minister on behalf of so many important institutions, reflects this approach of cooperation and consultation. I am very proud and happy to say that this is good democracy at work.

With regard to the Local Government elections, our primary concern should be that the Election Commission of Bhutan is able to replicate, and build upon, the tremendous success of the General Elections of 2008. However, the submissions made by the Prime Minister, the appeal by the disqualified candidates and the National Council’s stand, all indicate that the circumstances are less than conducive for successful Local Government elections. To conduct our first Local Government elections as a young democracy under such circumstances would hinder the growth of a strong vibrant democracy, and undermine the achievements we have made in our democratic transition. It would also tarnish the reputation that the Election Commission has rightly earned as a strong, just and independent institution. Therefore, while the Election Commission has always worked in the interest of the nation, and is striving today to conduct Local Government elections that have already been greatly delayed, it is advisable that they first resolve all issues before proceeding with the ongoing Local Government elections. The desired outcome of our first Local Government elections as a democracy should be that our people in the 205 gewogs of our 20 dzongkhags have faith, confidence and pride in the representatives they have elected to office. This outcome can only be achieved if we are all faithful to the Constitution, the laws of our land and the will of our People.

I hereby issue this Kasho on the 4th of May 2011 in carrying out my sacred Constitutional duty to “protect and uphold this Constitution in the best interest and for the welfare of the People of Bhutan.”

 

Jigme Khesar

King of Bhutan

Breaking the law?

Aspiring candidates

210 candidates have been disqualified from taking part in the local government elections. These candidates, all of whom had been members of a political party, were disqualified as it has not yet been one year since they resigned from their respective political parties.

Actually all of them had resigned from their political parties more than a year ago. All of them were automatically deemed to have resigned as far back as 2008 when they did not renew their memberships with their respective parties.

But Section 206 of the Election Act requires that any resignation or removal from a party “…shall be immediately notified by the concerned party office in the print media with a copy submitted to the Election Commission.” It turns out that both the political parties failed to publish the names of these deregistered members in the print media or to notify the Election Commission as soon as their memberships had expired.

Therefore, the ECB has ruled that the 210 candidates are not eligible to participate in the local government elections. They’ve been disqualified. But they’ve been disqualified through no fault of their own. In fact, the fault – for not announcing their resignations in the print media and for not informing the Election Commission in time – lies with the political parties.

So the ECB should punish the political parties. If electoral laws have been broken, it is because of them, not their ex-members.

And the ECB should allow the 210 candidates to take part in the elections. They have not broken the law.

Photo credit: Kuensel

Right to choose

The Chief Election Commissioner has released a pamphlet “… to share a few concerns of the Election Commission and clarify certain issues”

The Election Commission requests all of us to forward and redistribute their pamphlet to other Bhutanese.

 


 

 

Great expectations

Tomorrow, registered voters in Thimphu, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing will elect their respective thromde tshogdes or city councils.

As we discussed in my last post, the Thimphu city council – the new mayor in particular – will have to sort out the capital city’s water problems.

But the mayor and his council will also have to attend to many other competing priorities. Sewerage, solid waste, public transport, roads, traffic, housing, schools, fire, parks and income generation are some of the issues that should demand the city council’s immediate attention.

The thrompons of Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing will find that they too will have to address more or less the same issues.

But the biggest and most important responsibility of all four city councils will be to consolidate the powers and authority granted to them by the Constitution. Without these powers, the city councils will not be able to fulfill their Constitutional duties and obligations. And stand little chance of improving our cities.

The banner features the Thimphu City Corporation building, which will house the offices of its new mayor.

Testing ourselves

Functional literacy?

The ECB’s “functional literacy and skills test” for candidates to local government elections is comprehensive. Aspiring candidates will have to take a written test to determine their computational, analytical, managerial and correspondence skills. And they will have to undergo an oral test to demonstrate their reading, writing and speaking skills.

ECB’s diligence will, no doubt, ensure that only the most competent can stand for the local government elections. And, that must be good.

But I’ve been wondering: how many of our current MPs would have passed the functional literacy and skills test?

I don’t know about my colleagues in the Parliament, but since the test is conducted in Dzongkha, I, for one, would have failed.

Photo credit: Bhutan Observer showing graduates re-learning Dzongkha for RCSC exams.

Dasho Damcho on LG

In session

“Where is Dasho Damcho la …” enquired Sonam_t commenting on my open letter to the Dasho Dzongdags. “Where is honourable Damcho?” echoed Tangba.

Dasho Damcho’s recent response to their queries follows:

Dear Sonam_t and Tangba,

Thanks for your concern. I am still sticking around but like to keep a low profile. The issue that Hon’ble OL has raised was discussed with me and was discussed several times in the preceding NA Sessions as well. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of it because of absence of live telecast and the papers were not interested in covering these issues in depth! The issue first started with the complaints by the people of Wamrong when the DPT party workers attended a DYT meeting in Wamrong Dungkhag claiming direct orders to do so by the PM, that allegedly resulted in the decision to change the course of a feeder road that was already started.

The Opposition has made its stand very clear on the non-involvement of party workers in GYT and DYT meetings. It was the intention of the Constitution to have an independent LG. Despite that, the Government seems to be bent on involving Party Workers in GYT & DYT meetings, which I strongly feel that it undermines the independence of the LGs. It is for the same reason why even Dzongdas are not permitted to vote in DYT meetings.

My argument is that when it comes to permitting any person to attend a GYT or DYT meeting either as observer or expert, it should be left entirely at the discretion of the Chairman of the DYT or GYT as per the LG ACT. Now that the PM himself has mandated that party workers should be involved in these meetings, I do not understand how they can be involved without compromising on the independence of the LG, and the worst part is that it becomes obligatory on the part of the Chairmen to abide by it, howsoever mild the PMs words are crafted. And it is not just the issue of attending meetings but from the Press release, it is also about involving them in all developmental activities.

Anyway, thanks for remembering me once in a while.