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Law review taskforce recommends stopping horse trading of candidates

The National Law Review Taskforce suggested amending the Election Act 2008 to bar parties from trading candidates after the primary election.

The taskforce recommended incorporating a new section to require parties to declare their candidates before the primary round of election. It also recommended amending section 209 (C) of the Election Act 2008 to disallow parties to change their candidates after the primary election.

The taskforce’s report, released last week, stated that the Constitution does not require political parties to declare their candidates before the primary election.

However, during the first two elections in 2008 and 2013, the declaration of the candidates before the primary election on the initiative of the Election Commission of Bhutan was a welcome move as such a practice of requirement is a better option for the future political wellbeing of the nation.

Section 209 (C) of the Election Act allows a member from a political party who could not qualify for the general election to join other qualified parties.

“This practice, however, fundamentally contradicts the need to declare a candidate from each of the constituencies to contest in the primary election,” the report states.

The National Law Review Taskforce stated that section 209 (C) requires amendment as the nomination or fielding of candidates from other parties who could not qualify for the general elections can bear unforeseen negative consequences.

The practice of changing the candidates after the primary election may weaken the party affiliation, as candidates will wait until the declaration of result of election to join either of the two top political parties. “This could lead to a scenario where party candidates may not take the primary round seriously,” the report observed.

The political parties may not be broad-based with cross-national membership and those disqualified parties would be weakened.

“There is a possibility of ‘horse trading’ bargaining within and amongst the political party candidates and other corrupt practices,” the report stated.

Candidates and the leader of the weaker party could switch to the most favourable party, which could leave the weaker party with no one to contest for the opposition which could introduce a duo poly polity.

When candidates are changed, the members and supporters of the parties would lose faith in the parties and weaken the parties.

“There is also the risk of parties selecting their candidates based on ethnicity, religion, gender or other status according to the political climate of the time rather than merit,” the taskforce’s report stated.

The taskforce also found democratic advantages in declaring candidates before the primary elections and noted five advantages in its report.

This section 209 (C)  ensures a strong focus on a broad-based party politics and foster competition among them.

Other advantages are – voters will know from the beginning their candidates and it will also encourage parties to select candidates with integrity, who are accountable, and able to better represent their voters.

The taskforce also made a second suggestion on amending the Election Act. To secure an independent and apolitical civil service as required under Constitution Article 26 (1) there is critical need to address the issue of resignation of senior civil servants, at the eve of the next election, to join political parties and the issue of pay raise for the civil or public servants being used as part of political campaigns as they seriously undermine the objective of the Constitution.

It also recommended incorporating a provision under the Election Act, which should require a civil servant to resign at least one year before registering as member of a political party.

“Incorporate a provision under the Election Act that prohibits the use of the issue of civil or public servant’s pay raise as part of political campaign,” the report stated.

Tshering Palden

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