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…]

Monkey business

Last Sunday’s cover page of The Journalist features a troup of loud monkeys goading a horse and a couple of cranes to continue pushing for state funding.

The dejected animals encircled by the rascals appear to complain:

“…. And No Matter What We Do Or How We Spin It, They Are Still Gonna See State Funding As Monkey Business”

The Journalist is right: no matter how you look at it, state funding for political parties is indeed monkey business.

But The Journalist is also wrong: the horse wants no part of the monkey business, so it should not be there.

The Constitution does not permit state funding for political parties – plain and simple. So there’s no point in arguing about the need for state funding. If state funding is needed – and needed critically – then first amend the laws. Otherwise, no matter how state funding is justified, it must ultimately be subjected to the laws of the land.

Now join the fun in jungles of our democracy…

 

Funding parties

The ruling party today submitted a motion to amend the Election Act 2008. The motion sailed through the National Assembly, with only two members – both from the opposition party – objecting to it.

The proposed amendment seeks to include a new provision in the Election Act that would permit state funding for political parties.

According to Section 158 of the Election Act:

The income of political parties shall be made up of:

(a) Registration fee;

(b) Membership fees; and

(c) Voluntary Contributions from registered members.

Section 158 was debated extensively during the first session of the Parliament when the Election Act was passed. At that time, the Parliament had resolved that including state funding for political parties would contravene Article 15 Section 4(d) of the Constitution by which:

A political party shall be registered by the Election Commission on its satisfying the qualifications and requirements set out hereinafter, that: … (d) 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.

But now the ruling party proposes to insert a new subsection under Section 158 that would allow political parties to receive state funding. According to the new subsection, income of the political parties would include:

(d) Funding from the State to the Ruling Party and the Opposition Party

Another new section proposes to allow the government to decide the amount of funding political parties would receive:

The Ruling Party and the Opposition Party shall receive funding from the State to maintain their party machineries and the amount shall be determined by the Government in consultation with the Election Commission of Bhutan.

State funding for political parties was discussed thoroughly during the first session of the Parliament. And it was deemed unconstitutional. The National Council had ruled that state funding for political parties is unconstitutional. The National Assembly had accepted that state funding is possible only if the Constitution is amended.

The Chief Election Commissioner had categorically stated that:

State support to political parties would contravene Section 4 (d) of Article 15 of the Constitution.

And the Chief Justice of Bhutan had warned that:

State funding of political parties negates the very objective of democratic principles, and therefore the National Assembly resolution will have to be adjudicated to determine its constitutionality.

According to the proposed amendment, only the ruling and opposition parties would be provided state funding. If we allow that, it would become very difficult for new political parties to challenge the existing two parties.

And according to the proposed amendment, the government would hold the authority to determine how much funding to provide. If we allow that, it would become virtually impossible for new political parties to challenge the existing two parties.

But I oppose state funding for political parties, mainly because it would violate the Constitution, both in letter and in spirit.

Yes, our party, the PDP, is in deep financial trouble. And yes, because of that, we may not qualify for the 2013 general elections. But that’s no excuse to disregard the Constitution.

I knew I smelt danger.

Dangerous talk

I smell danger.

The prime minister is going all out campaigning for state funding for political parties.

In January, the prime minister informed the business community in Phuensholing that both the political parties were facing severe financial difficulties. Referring to the Parliament’s decision not to provide state financing for political parties, the prime minister complained that:

We asked for financial support but, there was so much criticism about it being unconstitutional, we withdrew the plea … whatever the government had done so far is in accordance with the Constitution.

Shortly afterwards, in Gelephu, the prime minister told the community there that DPT needed state funds to run their offices. He explained that the reason the parliament could render state funding for political parties as unconstitutional, was because:

… although the DPT government outnumbered the opposition, they [the government] retreated.

Earlier this month, in Thimphu, at the annual dzongdag conference, the PM argued that he had not seen any rules in the Constitution that specifically prohibit state funding for political parties. And he threatened that, if funds were not made available for his party:

we might have to compromise sincerity and not serve the people anymore. We might even have to sell the party

And, the day before yesterday, in a press conference, he insisted that only state funding could rescue the political parties. He called for a “liberal interpretation” of the Constitution arguing that:

while there is no specific provision in the constitution to allow state funding and political parties, there is no provision prohibiting state funding either.

The PM continues to insist for state funding, in spite of the fact that the National Assembly had decided against it. And in spite of the speaker suggesting that the Constitution would first have to be amended, if the legislature wanted to discuss state financing for political parties.

Why do I smell danger? Because I am becoming increasingly convinced that, constitutional or not, the government plans to bulldoze state funding for parties in the next session of the Parliament.

Would they really do that?

Yes!

In fact, that’s exactly what the government did with the CDG. The Parliament hadn’t reached a resolution on the CDG. The National Council had called it unconstitutional, faulty, and ambiguous. And they had submitted the matter to His Majesty the King.

Yet the government passed the CDG. And they did so without even discussing it the National Assembly. Instead, the CDG was discretely incorporated in the annual budget.

I smell danger.