The election commission has announced the date for the national council election as April 23, which leaves about six weeks for aspirants and re-contestants to get their act together.
But what the commission did not say is whether the present set of councillors would be allowed to re-contest, while still in office.
Instead, it said those in office, who wish to re-contest, must first resign. This brings the council back to square one, for now, as far as the confusion over resigning and re-contesting and gratuity benefits are concerned.
It is again about how “… the national council shall complete its five year term …” as contained in the Constitution is interpreted.
According to the parliamentary entitlements Act, there is only one criterion for parliamentarians to be entitled to retirement benefits; members must complete their five-year term in office to be eligible. Resigning to re-contest, as the election commission has prescribed, means having to forego gratuity benefits.
Until recently, the word going around and gaining ground was that councillors would be allowed to re-contest while in office and still collect their benefits.
But the election commission announcement, based on a royal decree, calling the national council election has the incumbents at a loss for words.
They had expected some announcement during the closing session of parliament last week, but nothing came through. They had expected something during the meeting with the election commission officials, but nothing came through. They had expected something when the royal decree calling the elections was released, but nothing has come through.
Some of the incumbents had already planned to make known their intention to re-contest, and even chose the date to make the announcement, but this has all changed now, with the election dates announced, but with nothing about being allowed to re-contest from office.
Some incumbents are still hopeful that a separate announcement will come through in the next few days regarding the issue, which is specifically an interpretation of what is contained in the Constitution.
All said and done, the gratuity benefits amounts to about Nu 700,000, which is quite a significant amount for most councillors. Once out of council that fund could even help a few to set up a small business and carry on with life.
Some observers point out that, if the Assembly members have to complete their term and re-contest, the same should apply to the council, because they are also very much part of parliament.
Time is running out, so councillors need to decide quickly what they want to do, as some have already done.