Has the Opposition turned weak?

Is the opposition party neglecting their constitutional duties?

The opposition party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which became the first elected government after a landslide victory in 2008 elections, was once known for its bold statements. However, certain observers are of the perception that the DPT is now weak and incapable of playing its role as a political counterweight to the government or at least complimenting the government in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

The role of the opposition party is clearly spelt out in Article 18 of the Constitution. “The opposition has a sacred duty to ensure that the government operates in accordance with the provisions of this constitution, to make the government responsible, accountable and transparent and not to allow party interests to prevail over national interests.” 

The duty-free outlet for tobacco products, relocation of the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM), the trial of the Home Minister and the political nomination of Tenzin Lekphell for the post of the Secretary-General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) were cited as some of the infamous decisions of the government which people thought the opposition would oppose. However, the opposition party remained silent and tight-lipped on the above issues. 

Business Bhutan asked some political observers about their opinion on the performance of the opposition party. There were both positive and negative statements, although a majority felt that the opposition was not doing its job.

“Forget the party, none of the opposition MPs are in the opposition, all we see are their personal updates on social media. Their silence is not justified,” said a 47-year-old Sonam (name changed), who has been following politics. He also wondered whether the opposition MPs justify their salaries/allowances/benefits.

A government official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that whatever the government was doing had to be opposed. “Because you have to be against the government when it commits a grave mistake. Otherwise, the opposition must also support the government when it does the right thing,” he added. 

Kinley, a businessman, said, “As an elected opposition party, it has a mandate to critically challenge the government’s decisions wherever necessary and to initiate broader political discourse and participation.” 

He further said that silence in politics can be interpreted in many ways. Either the opposition feels that there is not much to discuss, especially in the current context, or it waits to raise issues at a more appropriate time.

 “Opposition party MPs are paid from the public purse. If they do not do their job/duties, how can they justify their role and duties?” asked another keen observer.

Meanwhile, political parties outside parliament, especially the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), seems to be taking over the role of the opposition.

Kuenga Tashi, the Secretary General of the PDP said the PDP issues press releases whenever necessary.

 “We have only one agenda, which is to give constructive feedback and suggestions. As a political institution, it is our duty to remind the government and provide alternative views on all critical issues. We neither favor any particular institution nor attack it, but just do our duty,” he said.

Asked whether the opposition is doing its duty, Kuenga Tashi responded, “If yes, then maybe you should seek an explanation from it. For us, it is disappointing when a democratic institution mandated by the people fails to do its job. As a political party, we will raise the concerns and problems of the people and also hold the institutions accountable.”

Issues on which the opposition party has been silent: 

The first issue is about a new grading criterion introduced by the education ministry from this academic session: to advance to the next grade, students must score at least 40% in both the written exam and continuous assessment. 

The PDP issued a press release on social media stating that the new change in assessment would affect students’ results and called on the government to implement the change from the next academic session.

The second issue is on Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma quoted criticizing the plight of businesses in Phuentsholing.

The PDP condemned the minister’s comment and said in a press release that the minister’s comments had caused distress to the residents of Phuentsholing. The PDP demanded an apology from the minister to the residents of Phuentsholing.

Meanwhile, Business Bhutan sent questions to the opposition party but it did not respond.

Chencho Dema from Punakha