In going by the books, election commission can scrutinise candidates only in the general elections
In less than a week after the election commission completed scrutiny of letters of intent political parties submitted, allegations are rife that some of those, who made it past that finishing line, are “finalising” candidates at this stage.
People’s Democratic Party, during its annual convention on May 9, launched 12 more candidates, besides announcing that three other candidates are processing resignation.
A media report revealed a teacher-candidate of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa had sought resignation just a couple of days back.
Such developments had many wondering whether parties had “feigned” candidates by merely providing names to make up 47 candidates, a prerequisite while submitting the letter of intent to contest the primary round of ongoing assembly elections.
This is also happening in the backdrop of disqualification of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party from contesting the primaries for failing to produce candidates from Gasa’s two constituencies.
But with candidates seeking resignation at this stage, and words doing the rounds that parties are changing candidates now, many are questioning the validity of election commission’s letter of intent scrutiny process.
“It means parties can get accepted for primaries by simply giving in “random” names,” one said. “There are ambiguities in the screening process.”
Some said there were loopholes, where political parties could take a short cut, while others said there was a need for more “firm” filtering process to ensure “genuine” parties, which had a full set of good candidates could be allowed to contest the primary round.
However, PDP president Tshering Tobgay said they have all 47 candidates and would launch them “at their own time”.
The party made public 40 candidates so far.
DCT president Lily Wangchhuk had said the election commission’s requirement for now was Royal University of Bhutan’s letter of attestations and did not talk about resignation.
Rightly so, in submitting the list of 47 candidates, it entailed submitting names of candidates, their citizenship number, attestation letter from RUB, signature of candidates and nothing more.
“The fact is they’ve given us a complete list,” chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, adding the scrutiny was based on those forms.
“As far as we’re concerned, we are going step by step, there’s no lapses,” he said.
However, the letter of intent form, besides the candidate details, seeks only schedule of election campaigns, financial statement, list of party offices and registered members and a copy of manifesto, among others.
Thus, at this stage, there is no way for the commission to ensure whether candidates have resigned from their previous job, check if they have any criminal record, or see if a candidate is mentally sound.
Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, while scrutinising letters of intent, they did not insist on further details because there was the next stage, where parties contesting general elections would field candidates, who will seek nomination from returning officers.
At that time, candidates had to produce relieving order issued by former employer, audit and tax clearances, non-criminal conviction record and so on.
But in submitting the list of candidates, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi explained that, although it was called tentative, its legal intention was to have, to an extent possible, the final list.
“We may not have asked, but parties should give names of people, who have all the credentials,” he said. “We trust parties to put in candidates, who have all the documents and would qualify in the end.”
But the thing is, even if the parties manage to get accepted by “temporary” names, law doesn’t specify they cannot change candidates, after the acceptance of letters of intent.
Election Act talks only about allowing parties in general elections to take in candidates from parties that do not qualify, after “deregistering” from former party.
This could also mean political parties can work towards finalising the candidates, once their letter of intent was accepted.
Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, in principle, parties could change candidates, since there were human conditions, like illness and death, or some candidates willingly giving up, while others got disqualified for some reason.
But minus the circumstances, which were allowable under the laws, he said “in reality” it was not acceptable for a party to mislead the commission or pull a fast one.
“We’d like to think that they are parties worthy of our respect,” he said, adding the law was “well rounded” and that there were consequences for people who “misrepresented facts or misguided election commission”.
Meanwhile, many still believe that election commission should go beyond the “form”.
The issue was also raised when the parties had applied to commission for registration last year. Observers felt the commission should be allowed to determine whether a party is “worth” being registered.
“Similarly, the commission should ensure the party contesting primaries has good composition, leadership and plans for the country,” a private consultant said. “If their hands are tied, relevant laws should be amended.”
By Kesang Dema | Thimphu