The last three elections to both the houses of the Parliament, the National Council (NC) and the National Assembly (NA) saw several young and fresh aspirants, some just out of college contesting.
However, this will become a thing of the past with the Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) new criteria, which requires that those standing for the NC elections require a minimum of ten years experience.
Similarly, aspirants for the NA require five years experience. While there are both supporters and opponents of this new criteria, with some stating that their dreams to participate as candidates have been quashed, two serving members of the NC will lose the opportunity to contest again, due to the new criteria.
The ECB last year (2022) came out with the Rules of Elections Conduct in the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2022, Section 4, Qualification Criteria for Candidates standing for Elective Officer, 126.96.36.199, which states, “Serving in an office in the public/private sector with exemplary conduct and performance for 5 years for the assumption of office in the National Assembly, and for 10 years for assumption of office in the National Council.” And the two incumbent members of the NC affected by this are the NC members from Samte, Tirtha Man Rai and NC member of Tsirang, Dhan Kumar Sunwar.
The NC member of Samtse worked as a teacher for three years before he contested for the Parliamentary election in 2018. He does not fulfill the criteria by four months. The MP said that the new clause has hampered the decision and expressed his wishes that the ECB could consider the serving MPs.
Meanwhile, the new election rule on experience criteria had also quashed the dreams of young political aspirants. Fresh university graduates who did not serve in the public/private sector for the required years wishing to join political parties or contest for the NC election will be disqualified.
One of the aspiring candidates for the NA from Gasa, Leki Wangdi said that while the youth support new election rules on qualifications “political windows for the interested youth are shut.” He said that he had the will and ambition to join politics and it was sad as he does not qualify by three months in working experiences.
A 2020 graduate in Bachelor of Commerce from Norbuling Rigter College, Paro, Benita Ghalley from Samste welcomes the decision of ECB. However, she said that inexperienced candidates “aren’t necessarily a bad thing for democracy, especially if it increases representation.” “If many successful and potential political amateurs are interested in governing, opportunity should not be discarded,” she added.
Whatever, she said that the ECB is bringing the changes for a good cause and that one should respect it.
Praveen Ghalley, a graduate from the College of Science and Technology in electrical engineering would not qualify for the 2023 elections. He has been working in the private sector for just two-three years.
“Rules of Elections Conduct is a good move,” Praveen said. However, he said that the new rule does not provide chances to interested and capable youth. He said that institutions should push to galvanize young people to run for office.
One of the aspiring candidates for the NC, Tshewang Choden, 28, from Gelephu said that her long political dream since high school has been shattered. After graduating from College of Language and Culture Studies, she had been pursuing a Masters course in India.
She said that maturity of a person is not age or working number of years. In fact, she said that youth and adults should collaborate for the better of democracy, adding that today’s youth are different and mature at an early age.
“The change has been a blow for my long awaited dream and it must have discouraged others as well,” she said.
Sangay Rabten from Thimphu