National Council incumbents and contesting elections – a case of not seeing the forest for the trees

I have always been for a free press and our Constitution guarantees it. I applaud the effort put in by our journalists and reporters generally, in striving to achieve their fundamental purpose albeit limitations. The media is very powerful, it holds the power to disseminate ideas and perspectives, changing civilizations from the inside. What it shares has great ramifications and therefore, rightly often referred to as the 4th estate. I believe it is in keeping with the tenets of this important profession that the other side of the story needs to be heard. It is only in this light that I begin to share what I do.

It might be important as a society aspiring towards growing into a democracy whose foundations are laid out on the principle of rule of law to look at and understand the predicament, as some may refer to as that the National Council has been in, be looked at with a slightly more intelligent or wider lens. I prefer referring it to as the phase, can not be fitted forcefully into one single channel of thought. Simply because it is not fair for the rest of the country to be made to believe it so. It is not only about post service benefits, the concerns expressed by the National Council and other equally important institutions need to be understood. Some may agree when I say we have made ‘not see the forest for the trees’

The whole interpretational space has been reduced to such narrow trivialities and I worry if we are setting in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individually, the post employment benefit is big if not huge, but to pick it out and compare it to the Constitutional implications is like comparing apples and oranges. It is about our Constitution and a question that needs answering for all times to come. It seems very unsettling to see the media pay less focus to this important discourse but instead continue with their favorite subject of pounding MPs with benefit artillery. I believe, engrossed in this favorite distraction, many questions that needed attention may have skipped focus. It is true that the Election Commission of Bhutan, as a Constitutional body has a sacred duty, but so does Parliament and Judiciary. We should not mistake respecting institutions for respecting the Constitution. Respecting Parliament is not to be understood as the same as respecting the Constitution. It is in respecting the Constitution in its entirety that we uphold it. And so Parliament enacts laws, the executive makes policy decisions, the constitutional bodies decide within their jurisdictions and when differences in interpreting laws arise, the Judiciary is approached. The interpretation of law is not as simple as one may want it to be. Therefore, sometimes differences in opinion emerge and in this case, difference between how the National Council and the Election Commission of Bhutan read Electoral Laws which has relation to participation of incumbent Councillors.

Quite simply the Constitution requires that the National Council to stay in continuity, which means it must at all times have at least 3/4th of its members ready to pass any law. This is so that as soon as a Government is constituted after the National Assembly elections, Parliament is ready to carry on business. Otherwise the Council would be understood to cease to exist, which many of us believe would seriously violate the spirit of the Constitution. Ofcourse, the Election Commission believes that as contained in provisions in the Constitution, for a free and fair election to be conducted, incumbents need to resign. The National Council respects its decision but also finds itself unconvinced of this interpretation. The debate, in the center of which lies this fundamental difference in opinion has and remains to be about upholding our Constitution. While the implication on post service benefits, although important as individuals, can not more important than our Constitution and only set out to reconcile this difference.

Whatever the outcome, in invoking Constitutional provisions, I am confident that no law has been breached nor has any institution been undermined. Every institution has been acting earnestly in carrying out its mandate. However, the point needs to be driven home that in approaching the court for interpretation when differences of opinion arise, is infact respecting our Constitution for rule of law is and should be at the heart of our democracy.



About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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One Response to National Council incumbents and contesting elections – a case of not seeing the forest for the trees

  1. Yeshey Dorji says:


    I was happy to see that you did not get elected as the Chair of the NC. The quality of debate on the floor of the House would have suffered greatly, had you been relegated to the role of a moderator. Same thing can be said of Dasho Sonam Kinga – he could have contributed so much more as a Member, rather than as the Chair of the House.

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