The National Council election is gaining pace with gewog zomdu screening candidates and people making their choice at the grassroots.
Amid this nomination process and despite being reminded to refrain from doing so, we are also seeing political parties politicking full on. New candidates are introduced and mergers announced.
When the Election Commission of Bhutan put the election process in motion by calling the National Council elections, it advised political parties to refrain from indulging in political activities. The decision to do so was to avoid confusing the people between political and apolitical election processes.
The responsibility to respect the ECB’s notification falls on the political parties. Should they falter, the responsibility to remind them falls on the ECB.
Soon after Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) was deregistered as a political party, its members announced that it was merging with Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). DCT asserts that it is deregistered but not dissolved as a party. If it still exists as a party, then election laws do not allow mergers.
But the issue here is more than nomenclatures. Being deregistered from the register of political parties means that the party is not legitimate. This means, it cannot conduct any activity or display its logos and banners. For the ECB, deregistered means dissolved and it is for this reason that the ECB notified the public on the party’s status.
Section 146 of the Election Act, 2008 and section 8 of the Political Party Rules, 2015 state that a political party shall stand dissolved only by declaration of the Supreme Court. These laws also state that the Election Commission may remove the name of a political party from the Register of Political Parties, if it, among other reasons, has intimated its desire to the Commission to be struck off the Register of Political Parties.
To be selective of these clauses and assert a party’s existence despite being taken out of the Register of Political Parties is both naïve and irresponsible. Latching onto Article 15, Section 11 of the Constitution, which also states that a political party shall stand dissolved only by declaration of the Supreme Court, suggests that a party is asking for the most extreme sanction, which may have implications on an individual’s capacity to lead or participate in other parties or to hold public office in the future.
While laws and rules are clear on the conduct of political parties, there is still a need for more clarity on the kinds of activities they can hold during an election period. There is as much need to expound on what a deregistered party is allowed and not allowed to do. Since it doesn’t exist as a party, do the election laws and rules even apply?
It is time political parties and candidates respect and abide by the laws and rules of a significant process in a democracy.