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.

State of the party

Last Sunday, in the Bhutan Times…

PM and OL on state funding for parties

Financing political parties

The Royal Audit Authority, in its annual report to the Parliament, pointed out what we all know: that both our political parties are in serious financial problems. As of 30th June 2008, PDP owed Nu 20,326,924 to the Bank of Bhutan and Nu 3,588,232 to other various other suppliers. DPT owed Nu 14,253,975 to the Bank and Nu 7,708,010 to other suppliers.

Yesterday, the National Assembly spent a good hour discussing the Royal Audit Authority’s observations on the financial status of our two political parties. Actually, we did not really discuss the audit observations per se. Instead, we talked about, at length and in great detail, the need to provide state funding for the political parties.

This is not good. During our first session, about a year ago, we’d debated state funding for political parties. And we’d agreed that it would be unconstitutional. In fact, the Chief Justice, who at that time was still the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, publicly declared that state funding for political parties would be unconstitutional. But still, we discussed the issue again.

Some of the arguments our honourable members of parliament, including ministers, presented were shocking. Most of the members proclaimed that, upon closer examination, the Constitution did not specifically prohibit state funding for political parties. Many suggested that the foundations of our democracy would crumble if the existing parties were to fail. Some threatened that political parties, especially a ruling party with a huge mandate, would resort to corrupt means to raise funds. And, one brave member even proposed that laws could be amended to allow state funding.

My views are simple and straightforward. According to Article 15.4(d) of the Constitution, a political party can be registered if, among other things, “It does not accept money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members, and the amount or value shall be fixed by the Election Commission.” Furthermore, the Election Act clearly specifies that political parties can raise funds from only three sources: registration fees, annual membership fees, and voluntary contributions. So obviously, I cannot support any proposal for state funding for political parties.

But what if one or both the existing parties were to collapse? Wouldn’t that affect democracy? Yes. But the show, so to speak, would go on. The importance of the existing parties is overrated. They are not indispensable for our democracy. Should they fail, it would be most inconvenient, and embarrassing, but other parties would surely come forward. And, they wouldn’t make the same mistakes, especially the excesses that have caused both PDP and DPT financial woes.

Now, if politicians, on the other hand, are prepared to knowingly violate the Constitution, we should be scared. It is dangerous for democracy. And it must not be allowed to happen.

Incidentally, less than a month ago, I’d expressed my concerns that our government may try to justify state funding for political parties (read Financing parties).