The Journalist?

Politicians and political parties love media coverage.

The Journalist, a weekly paper, has featured PDP on its cover, directly or indirectly, in four of its last 8 issues.

Therefore, PDP must be happy. Right?

Not exactly. Every one of The Journalist’s stories on PDP during the last two months has a negative bias. And almost every one of them seems to be intended to undermine the PDP, and to discredit its president.

The Journalist began their 1st April cover story by telling readers that:

The talk in town is that Gasa MP, Damchoe Dorji, the only opposition member apart from the opposition leader, may not continue in the People’s Democratic Party should he decide to run in 2013. This will have huge implications, sources say.

“If Damchoe Dorji leaves PDP, this will badly dent the image and credibility of the party and its attempt to resuscitate itself,” said a civil servant. “This will also be a huge blow in particular to the Opposition Leader whose ability to lead will be under scrutiny.”

And in their editorial of the same issue, The Journalist writes that:

With their candidates switching parties and most PDP supporters not very keen to have the opposition leader Tshering Tobgay as the party president, 2013 does not seem to be as exciting as it should be for them.

The cover story of The Journalist’s last issue in April, on 29th April, focuses on PDP’s leadership problems. And most of that issue’s editorial is devoted to explaining why, because of PDP’s debts, the party may not be able to register for the 2013 elections.

Three weeks later, on 20th May, the day after the PDP’s general convention, The Journalist again featured PDP on its cover page, and again talked about the eminent demise of PDP. According to The Journalist, PDP’s new president, who is not trustworthy and who is not likeable, could be “presiding over its funeral”. The story goes on to say that, “almost all the capable candidates from the PDP have already left the party”, quoting unnamed “observers”.

The next week, on 27th May, The Journalist again devoted their cover page on PDP. But the party is painted as “almost a dead horse” and its president is portrayed as unable to lead. And again, The Journalist goes to great lengths to try to convince readers that most of PDP’s earlier candidates have left the party.

I’m flattered that The Journalist considers the PDP worthy of so much attention. Being featured no less than four times in barely two months on the cover of a weekly newspaper is noteworthy. But I’m amused at their determination considering that there’s so much real news competing for the nation’s attention. And I’m amused at their persistence in writing and rewriting the PDP obituary.

Thankfully, The Journalist is read by very few. And thankfully those who read it, don’t take their stories too seriously. It’s quite easy to spot what The Journalist is up to.

No. No. No.

Is it legal? Is it logical? Is it needed? Three questions that we, members of Parliament, should ask ourselves today when we talk about state funding for political parties during the joint sitting.

Is state funding for political parties legal? No.

Article 15 Section 4(d) of the Constitution clearly forbids political parties from accepting “… money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members”. That’s why the National Assembly decided almost 4 years ago that state funding for political parties would be unconstitutional. That’s why the Election Commission of Bhutan has called state funding for political parties illegal. And that’s why the Chief Justice of Bhutan has declared that state funding for political parties would go against the “spirit of the Constitution”.

Is state funding for political parties logical? No.

A political party, by definition, is a group of people who share the same ideas on how our country should be governed. These people work together to advance their political beliefs by securing the right to make laws, determine policies, and to run our government.

A political party, therefore, needs people. It needs people to support its ideas. And it needs people to finance the party machinery to advance those ideas. So if a party, any party, cannot draw enough people to support it, that party cannot claim to be a true political party.

You may agree with the ideas of a political party. Or you may not. If you do, you may wish to support that party, you may wish to become a member of that party, and you may wish to contribute financially to that party. But if you don’t agree to those ideas, you may wish to support an alternate political party. Or you may wish to stay neutral.

That decision is yours. That decision is your right. You may chose to support one party, or another, or you may chose to stay neutral. I repeat: that decision is your right. And what state funding for political parties threatens to do is infringe on that right. State funding would mean that your tax money will go to support all political parties; whether or not you want to support them, whether or not you agree with their ideas, your tax money will go towards propping them up.

To make matters worse, state funding for political parties would short-circuit the important relationship between political parties and the people. On the one hand, state funding would permit a political party to exist even if its ideas are not generally supported. On the other hand, state funding would mean that a political party does not have to be accountable to people. Instead that political party would essentially become, and should be required to operate as, a government department! [Continue Reading…]

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

Better party

That a group of people in Thimphu are forming a political party comes as very good news. Our two existing parties – one ruling, the other in opposition – cannot offer sufficient choice for democracy to take hold in our country. So we should be excited about the prospects of a third party. And we should encourage them.

But we may need even more people to step forward and form political parties. After all, both the existing parties – DPT and the PDP – have huge loans, and may not be around to participate in the 2013 elections. The Election Commission of Bhutan, in their notification of 31 January 2009, has already made it clear that “State financing shall not be forthcoming under any circumstance.” And, more importantly, the ECB, in that same notification, directed “the parties to clear all financial liabilities … by 30 June 2012.”

Unless something goes terribly wrong, we still have another three and a half years till the next National Assembly elections. And that’s enough time for concerned citizens to get together and form several viable political parties.