Slaying JYT Shadow or Constitutional Monarchy Democracy?
By Wangcha Sangay
The Kuensel editorial of Friday the 27th September, 2013, ended with a food for thought for the public regarding the ruling PDP Party MPs pushing through National Assembly their intent to amend the part of National Assembly Act which covers resignation of an MP, to quote, “What should be weighed today is whether it is really necessary to amend laws just so bruised egos could be mended against ramifications or bearing such a move would have in future”.
I have no comment on “bruised egos” or no egos but it is necessary to hazard a thought on what possible, “ramification or bearing such a move have in future”. I qualify my thoughts as, “hazard” because it is not possible to predict future happenings in totality. And I say it is necessary to hazard a thought because we may be heading towards an end to a dream envisioned by the two Kings of Bhutan when they initiated the Constitutional Monarchy system for democratic governance. And I do not want that to happen and therefore the necessity to make public my thoughts on the issue raised by Kuensel editorial.
The move by Ruling PDP Party MPs to amend National Assembly Act is to retrospectively censure the resignation of the President of DPT from the elected post of Member of Parliament. This objective was made very clear during the debate in the National Assembly and it is in line with the Speaker’s initial reaction to JYT resignation letter.
Lyonpo Pema Gyamtso the leader of the Opposition Party has already hinted what the reaction would be if an amendment was rammed through at any time by the ruling party. Like him most Opposition Party MPs may elect to resign than to be a part of a Parliament that is engaged in censuring their Party President and therefore the DPT Party itself. One or two DPT MPs could be induced or seduced to remain with promises of better opportunities so as to preserve a semblance of a two Party system of governance. But in essence, the noble royal dream of a Constitutional Monarchy Democratic system will be shattered. It does not mean that Bhutan will be in political disarray. I think many Bhutanese would be comfortable with the past Monarchy system being re-instated. Frankly it will mean that Bhutanese people will have less number of Bosses to bow down to.
In my assumption, the Constitutional Monarchy system was initiated to meet 3 primary national goals.
- To keep in step with people oriented political reforms taking place elsewhere in the world.
- To meet the aspirations of the increasing number of educated Bhutanese people who could be trusted to be responsible for their own future. Recently the King made this aspect very clear when His Majesty said that Democracy was not a gift. It was a responsibility given from the Throne to the Bhutanese people.
- Ensuring the continuity of the Institution of Monarchy which was established more than 100 years ago to bring peace and stability to Bhutan. The Institution of Monarchy is more important to the Bhutanese people than to the Wangchuck Dynasty. Let me cite just one relevant example. Few weeks back I asked of a very prominent politician, “How is Sino-Bhutan Talk going on?” “It is in the safe hands of His Majesty and therefore progressing very well”, was the immediate reply. In fact during the ongoing session of the 2nd Parliament, it was reported that Technical Teams of China and Bhutan had carried out a joint survey at an identified Sino-Bhutan border area. The two political parties may deal with Bhutan’s giant neighbours based on their Party’s political expediency but the King of Bhutan on whose shoulder rests the constitutional responsibility of national security and the ultimate well being of the people cannot compromise the sovereign interests of the Kingdom for money or out of fear. This is why I say that Monarchy is the gravitational force that keeps the nation in its independent orbit.
Now based on my above 3 assumptions that led to the Constitution of Bhutan, I cannot imagine that the King of Bhutan will officially grant assent to an amendment to the National Assembly Act that in effect tantamount to retrospectively censuring the act of resignation from the elected post of MP by the President of DPT which is the present Opposition Party. The Throne is constitutionally placed in neutral political position. It does not mean that the King cannot intervene. He can and he should in matters of national security or ultimate well being of the people. But to condone a deliberate political act of the Ruling Party to censure the President of the political party in Opposition is literally destroying the very foundation of the political system set up under the Constitutional Monarchy Democratic Governance.
Democracy in modern era cannot be bounded by feudalistic limitation. It is ridiculous to convert tenure of an MP to that of a prison term. If an MP cannot have the freedom of expression such as resigning for whatever reasons be it politics, social, economic or simply distaste of the environment, the other lowly citizens really need to be wary of the new political system. Democracy cannot be qualified or limited by money. Election expenditure cannot be an absolute reason to deny basic human right or an expression of democratic freedom. I also feel that people’s trust in an elected MP is overhyped because in Bhutanese Election there is no button in the EVM to reject any or all candidates. In a close community like Bhutan over crowded with political party people, it is very awkward to abstain from voting and once in the voting booth, the person has no other choice then to vote for one of the candidates. So it is possible that the public in general may not be overly concerned if few re-elections are held. And re-elections due to resignations will be really rare because candidates spend more money, time and energy and definitely make more sacrifices than any other to participate in an election. He or she is most unlikely to throw away the fruit of success unless compelled to.
The Election Commission had issued a writ barring elected Tshogpas from resigning based on its argument that re-election was a burden to national resources. Bhutan’s uniqueness lies in its over the barrel dictates such as the writ issued by the Election Commission that subvert the very principle of democracy it is supposed to uphold. That writ was not challenged because the Tshogpas were only fighting for more pay which they did get. However, it does not mean that the writ is legally sound. The authority of the Election Commission covers the period of registration to election result. The authority does not extend beyond election result declaration day. Once a candidate is declared elected, that candidate falls outside the purview of the Election law and will be governed by another constitutional authority or Legislative Act. May be for that reason, the Election Commission did not interfere in the resignation issue of former Prime Minister. It just does not have the mandate outside the election law.
I have had differences with the former Government. I publicly disagreed with the Tobacco Act and termed it ‘draconian’ and questioned the government’s motive in obstructing Bhutan’s membership to WTO. Much before that I had accused the DPT government of buckling under Indian pressure and withdrawing Bhutanese participation in the Shanghai International Trade Fair. A lot of people may also recall my fight against the former government in regard to the freedom of media. And my view of Pedestrian Day was that it was environmentally sound but socially most insensitive and arbitrary. I made my stands under my own name and never anonymously. When Dragong Mining Case in Haa surfaced in May, 2013, I questioned by then the former Prime Minister about the nightmarish policy of promoting hydropower projects downstream and destroying water catchment areas upstream. But for all my disagreements with the DPT led government, I hold JYT in respectable esteem. And if a section of the people disagreed with his style of functioning, that is an exercise of political freedom and I respect that too. He did not betray or compromise the sovereignty of the Kingdom. And he fulfilled his duty to the royal vision of democratic governance by ensuring that his party took up the Opposition role under a unanimously elected new leader. And only then he submitted his resignation letter 2 days prior to the inaugural ceremony of the 2nd National Assembly. His resignation I feel was beyond his call since it was so publicly and vocally demanded by his supporters. My views on his resignation have been adequately expressed in my article ‘Farewell Democratic Bhutan’s most prominent MP’ at www. wangchasangey.blogspot.com. The only new thing I need to add here is that I do appreciate that JYT had endeavoured to seek royal clearance prior to his resignation letter to the National Assembly Secretary. So that does put in doubt any suspicion of defiance.
After listening to part of debates and reading more of the views later in print media, the proposal to amend the resignation clause in the National Assembly Act could be in a way taking politics to brinkmanship. Presently Bhutan has two influential national leaders who are in position to rein in this line of politics. I appeal to Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay the Prime Minister of Bhutan and Lyonpo Sonam Kinga Chairman of National Council to give to the royal envisioned dream a chance to succeed. If they wish it is in their sphere of leadership influence to guide the energy and intellectual capacity of the MPs beyond the shadow of former Prime Minister Jigmi Yoezer Thinley and concentrate on present national affairs rather than engraving ugly epitaph on incidents of yesterdays.
In expressing my thoughts, I only wish the nation well. My positive or negative views cannot make any difference to the standing of any political party or leadership. The intent is only to appeal for happier future if anyone cares to listen.
From the beginning of 2012, I kind of sensed that not everything was well in the Kingdom of Camelot. In early week of August, 2012, somehow, I gathered the courage to submit my thoughts through Bhutan Post to their Majesty the Kings and the Prime Minister. I did pray deeply that my submissions would be graciously viewed. I reproduce herewith a part of the submission which in a way is a window to my inner heart. I have always been truly committed to the Institution of the Monarchy and peace and stability of Bhutan.
Hereunder is the reproduced part of the submission made on 7th August, 2012.
“A citizen would like to humbly beg to share few heartfelt thoughts with his most respected and revered God-like His Majesty the King, His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo and the Hon’ble 1st Prime Minister of Constitutional Democratic Kingdom of Bhutan.
Internal Political Impression
Constitutional Democracy is a new experiment for Bhutanese and Bhutan both at national and International level. As such there will always be in existence some doubts, some hesitation and a minor trust deficit between authorities, between people and authorities and between neighbours. However as years go by and the elected governments and the Monarchy Institution interacts in good faith, the misgivings and bottle necks will dissipate. A national capacity will naturally develop that will absorb changes and channel new stream of democratic thoughts along proven, reliable channels of the past.
Recently, I felt quite disturbed by the intensity of different views in the mass media in regards to the land amendment Bill. I don’t know who really were using the forums: were they civil servants, land commission people, MPs, political groups, simply ordinary Bhutanese out on a political weekend or outsiders out to create a division between the Prime Minister and the King. It is my belief that the Royal Person and the Prime Minister themselves are very much in national unison and the preceding years of developed trust and respect still prevail.
It is in the interest of any ruling political party to preserve the sanctity of the Constitutional Monarchy Institution as much as it is in the interest of the Monarchy Institution to help nurture and protect the sanctity of democratic governance. Bhutan’s strength as a sovereign nation and social stability requires the two main institutions to move in unison in the same direction. We cannot have Thailand type of tug of war because Bhutanese in general do not want it. They revere their Monarch and they want the government to concentrate on economic development and create jobs.
As years go by, I think the Bhutanese King and Bhutanese Prime Minister (I don’t mean the present), will have no time to think of their individual turfs and prerogatives. The trend of the future is very clear. Already we have new religious groups and with it will come political groups not based on region or ethnic but on common agenda not necessarily pro national interest.”
In conclusion I wish to state that sometimes it is necessary to set politics aside in the interests of overall national well being. It is unhealthy to play off Prime Minister versus Prime Minister or Prime Minister versus His Majesty the King. Bhutan is a small nation with huge social and economic burdens. We need contribution from the best of our people especially national leaders and above all it is necessary for all Bhutanese to come together to protect and preserve the sanctity of the Institution of Monarchy and therefore avoid roping in the sacred Institution in the settlement of political vendetta or in pursuit of gaining political mileage. Pelden Drukpa Lha Gyalo!