Strengthening the democratic pillars

The Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) “Rules on the Conduct of Elections in the Kingdom of Bhutan 2022,” has evoked mixed feelings from the populace. However, the majority support the ECB’s new criteria on experience that aspiring politicians need to have. And this support is augmented when young politicians, who have now garnered experience, share their stories, about those days when they first donned the blue scarf and the patang right after college.

The challenges they confronted were not only confined to the sacred parliament. They knew little or nothing about important government policies and when they were made committee members of certain bills, they had to burn the midnight oil.

We are not generalizing and suggesting that all members of parliament (MPs) without experience would have faced similar uncomfortable episodes. Some may be exceptionally good. But what the country witnessed in the last three elections, especially for the Upper House was a cause for alarm.

Almost every gewog had a candidate. There were several fresh graduates. Electing the best candidate for the district was a far cry, as it become a political tussle and a test of superiority between gewogs.

MPs are the decision makers of the country. In the hallowed hall of the parliament, they introduce Bills which translates into Acts. Thus, the experience should have been a prerequisite many years back, for experience is directly related with networking, confidence, wisdom, knowledge on subjects, risk-taking, and others. Further, elected leaders who make or take the most important decisions do not have the luxury to learn on the job.

Moreover, when there are young inexperienced leaders amidst senior ones, the latter will always dominate. The former may believe whatever is said and when decisions are made, it will be hijacked by the latter. We have heard about it; we have seen it.

Additionally, the ECB is bringing forth new rules when the country is undergoing an unprecedented transformation. It is the right time, for we do not want to see another transformative exercise when the one ongoing is about to end.

There will indeed be resistance. People will talk about democracy and their rights. But the rights of a few individuals should be sacrificed, when it concerns the nation’s interests. There may be those without experience who have thought about joining politics. This group should also understand the larger picture behind the ECB’s new rules. Similarly, political parties and interest groups should support the ECB at this particular juncture, rather than trying to make it a controversial issue.

The ECB is an institution established not just to ensure free and fair elections. Its target is also a vibrant democracy as envisaged by the architects of Bhutan’s democracy – our beloved Kings. Thus, by framing additional rules, the ECB has nothing to gain. The country and its people are the ones who would be reaping the fruits. And the fruits will be delicious.