According to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), once a political party is deregistered, it has no legal standing to remain as a party and should be considered non-existent.
The confusion over deregistering and dissolving a political party emerged when the now deregistered Druk Chirwang Tshogpa’s (DCT) president Lily Wangchuk told the media in a press conference that her party, which was deregistered on February 26, was not dissolved.
She said: “Only the Supreme Court can dissolve a political party.” The statement was made after the party was deregistered.
However, head of ECB’s Department of Election, Sonam Tobgyal, said that deregistering and dissolving, which carry the same meaning, may apply differently depending on the situation. ECB may deregister a political party if it fails to meet requirements and criteria, but the party may stand dissolved with declaration from the Supreme Court if the party violates legal provisions.
Sonam Tobgyal said that DCT was deregistered after the party applied for deregistration on February 20.
‘Dissolution of Political Party’ in Election Act states that the commission may remove the name of a political party from the register of political party if the party has intimated its desire to the commission to be struck off the register.
DCT’s press release stated the party opted to remain deregistered after it failed to secure state fund for the upcoming elections. Since the party could not get 10 percent of the total votes in the primary round in 2013, the party was ineligible for state funding to run for the elections.
The Election Act says that the Supreme Court may dissolve a political party if it receives money or assistance from foreign sources, if it has solicited or resorted to collection of funds from private individuals or any agency other than from its registered members or on violation of the Election Act.
Following the deregistration of the party, the party’s president and founding members announced at the press conference, the merger of DCT with Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).
Lily Wangchuk said the decision to merge with DPT was to carry forward the party’s agenda and ideology through DPT. “So, by combining the forces, we intend to present a progressive manifesto that is responsive to all sections of the society and push our social agenda for a more prosperous, happier and stronger Bhutan with greater solidarity and unity,” a press release from the party stated.
DPT denied the announcement made by the president and founding members of DCT through a press release. “While merger was found to be not feasible, we agreed that Lily Wangchuk and some of her interested members could join us if they deregistered as a political party,” it stated. “However, acceptance as candidates would be subject to DPT’s standard selection criteria and procedures. We also agreed that some of DCT’s social agenda concerning women and youth could be considered, if found relevant.”
Sonam Tobgyal said that merger could be considered only when a political party accepts the ideology of another party by incorporating it in the former party’s Charter with prior approval from the ECB.
“There is no merger undertaken in our democracy as of now,” he said.
If parties attempt to merge without the approval of the commission, they have to face electoral offences, which could lead to dissolutions of both the parties.
“If any of the parties try to merge they should be held accountable,” he said.
Most believe that joining of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s candidates to People Democratic Party in the General Election in 2013 was a merger.
Section 209 of the Election Act says that a person shall be deemed duly nominated to contest an election to the National Assembly by a registered political party, if he or she is a member of a registered political party, which could not qualify for the General Elections, but is admitted as a member and nominated as a candidate by a political party to contest in the General Elections. However, his or her membership in the original political party should be forfeited.
According to this section, candidates of a political party may join another in the General Elections provided they are deregistered from their original party.