The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bhutan People’s ‘Un-registered’ Party?

The Election Commission did not register the BPUP as a political party. A press release read BPUP as being ‘disqualified’. It has many implications.
If the ECB stands its ground, the move will give the ECB the legal justification not to have the primary round. BPUP, the third aspiring party has been disqualified; another third party now is highly unlikely as poll day closes in.

Observers say that BPUP’s credibility suffered because it merged initially with the erstwhile APP, which later merged with DPT. The present BPUP then parted ways from DPT.
Many people feel that, even if registered, it would be difficult for BPUP to challenge the two existing parties which has already gained a stronghold among the Bhutanese voters.
The grounds on which the BPUP was disqualified are intriguing.
The ECB states that the BPUP does not have the ‘capacity’ and the ‘ability’ to run the government. In a democracy, it is the electorate who decides which party is capable of forming the government.
That is why there are elections. Registration is not the ticket to form the government. It is to participate in the elections.
The ECB also states that the candidates are not capable of forming the cabinet and the parliament. According to the Election Bill, it is not necessary for a party to submit list of candidates, only members in their application for registration. In the primary round, only the parties will contest. Candidates contest only in the general round. Even the two registered parties have not finalised their candidates for all the constituencies. Assuming that BPUP was registered and makes it through the primary round, it is not improbable that candidates from the party that lost the primary or other aspiring candidates could legally join it. So an assumption that the BPUP will have a weak set of candidates and the conclusion that they will not be ‘capable’ is a heavy statement.
The ECB states that a political party “needs maturity and the appropriate mix and strength in terms of its membership” and justifies it by saying that “more than 80 percent of the members are youth who are drop-outs from class X and XII or have no academic qualifications.”
Demanding maturity from an aspiring political party when the whole wagon of democracy is in its infancy including the ECB is a difficult call. It is also incorrect to require members to have ‘academic qualifications’ because the draft constitution and the election rules set the qualification criterion only for candidates and not the members. Every eligible voter is eligible to be a member.
Today, any voter can be a member of the registered parties by signing their registration forms. Most of their members would surely be those without academic qualification.
The ECB says that the BPUP’s claim to be a party for the “nyamchung” (common people) was not broad-based and not cross-national. BPUP members said that they had not described the party using the word in the charter or in any written document. However, some members had propagated the party using the word in the media in the past.
The question is, does the usage of the word ‘nyamchung’ in the media make an aspiring party not broad-based and not cross-national?
The ECB states that the party has also failed to demonstrate the support of 2,500 youth as it had claimed. But the Election rules do not require an aspiring political party to prove its support for the party to get registered.
The ECB also says that the Charter of BPUP has no clear “ideology, vision and mission.” The following is for the readers to assess.
The BPUP vision: To pursue His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s dream of true democratic nation whereby his philosophy of Gross National Happiness is achieved for the benefit and welfare of the Bhutanese people.
The BPUP mission: To maintain the highest level of peace, harmony, social equality and justice, and to further strengthen the nation’s security, sovereignty and make a vibrant socioeconomic development by creating a unique democratic political culture in the world.
Is it ‘clear’?
Ideology is a programme of political action and the leaders of the two registered parties have repeatedly said that their priorities and manifestoes will not differ much and that it will be dictated by priorities of the 10th five-year plan.
The leadership of BPUP has also been questioned. The party did not comply with the registration requirements by not having a president but an interim president.
The BPUP is also accused of receiving money from people other than registered members, and also for receiving contributions in cash which they were not supposed to. In a letter to the ECB, the BPUP has accepted it and said that the party was in urgent need of money then and states “we will not repeat the same in future”.
It isn’t impossible that the other two registered parties wouldn’t have made mistakes. Mistakes are unavoidable in the transition to democracy.
The ECB has accused the BPUP for waiving off membership and registration fees which the BPUP denies.
The ECB states that the “applicant can avail of an opportunity to be heard, if it so desires”. However, ECB did not clarify whether BPUP has any chance of being reconsidered if they strengthen on the so-called weaknesses. BPUP members said that they looked up to the ECB to guide and help them come up as a political party, and not abruptly disqualify them.
We are all novices in the move towards democracy.

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