Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Common Forum: How Lawful Is It?

How useful are the ECB sponsored Common Forums that are being conducted all around the country?

DPT’s view is that it is "breaking up people" and that it is “unproductive” and "should be done away with". During a press briefing a few days back, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba of DPT said:

The whole process of politics becoming dirty and dangerous might be further expedited by this very noble intention”.

Contrary to what the DPT believes, other three parties - DCT, DNT and the PDP are unanimous in their assertion that the common forum is useful and productive. There is an extraordinary bit of commonality in the three parties’ opposition to the DPT’s views and their collective support for the perpetuation of the common forum.

However, when not a single voter turned up at the last common forum of South Thimphu, the candidates of some of the political parties had a mouthful to say.

DCT’s Kinley Dem was disappointed that “no voters showed up to listen to them”.

Dr. Lotay Tshering of DNT called the none-participation by voters as “very cold reaction from the literate lot of South Thimthrom”.

It is a pity that these candidates should react thus. Why should any voter show up to listen to them? If the voters chose not to attend any of their common forums, why should that be considered improper or not befitting of an educated person? Why is it mandatory that the voters should be inclined to listen to the candidates, if they have no interest to do so? Isn’t that their choice? Isn’t that what all these parties are harping on - that democracy is all about choices?

Talking of choices, from which provision of the law does the ECB draw its authority - to force this common forum on the political parties and the people of Bhutan? How justified are they in imposing their will on the political parties?

As far as I am concerned, the ECB is a regulatory/supervisory authority that is mandated to oversee the proper and lawful conduct of the elections - to ensure that every party is accorded an opportunity to contest in an atmosphere of equality and fair play. 

In my view, the ECB is exceeding their authority and mandate in deciding, on behalf of the political parties and the people of Bhutan, as to how they should vote or how the parties must canvass for votes and how best to project and promote their parties among the electorate.

The ECB should leave it to the politicians to decide as to how best to serve the interest of their own parties. The ECB cannot, on behalf of the parties, decide that common forum is the best way to promote their parties or their ideologies or the best strategy by which to garner support from the voters. As long as the parties function within the ECB’s guidelines which should be limited to issues relating to ethical and moral standards of how each political party must behave and campaign, the parties must be allowed the creativity and the operational freedom to conduct their campaigns as they choose. How can it be acceptable that a non-political entity like the ECB has the experience and the expertise to direct political parties as to how they should go about their job?

One of the strangest things about our democracy is that people who do not have a day’s experience in democracy is directing and making laws and subscribing ways and means as to how democracy and elections must be conducted.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Common Forum: An Exercise in Futility

Listening to the speeches delivered by the Candidates of different political parties in the Common Fora around the country awakens in me a sense of Déjà vu … one that relates to my late grandmother.

As the most indulgent and favourite among her 170 odd grand children, my late grandmother would single me out - for special privilege. From her winter residence in Gaylegphug, she would issue her summons for me to travel all the way from Thimphu to Gaylegphu - in order that she may undertake her annual pilgrimage to Bumthang where she would spend her summer months - in prayer and penance.

Being way past 90, she was in no condition to undertake any physical activities. Regardless, she would unfailingly attend all the Buddhist sermons that would be conducted in and around Bumthang valley. Amid rain and sun and swirling dust she would sit, among a sea of human bodies, in rapt attention, listening to a tirade of Buddhist teachings delivered in words that were total Greek to her. To this day I have not understood the merit or the meaning of listening to words that made no sense.

Rumour has it that during the 80’s and the 90’s when the Royal High Court of Justice was pronouncing judgments on the prisoners who where being prosecuted for acts of terrorism and other anti-national activities, verdicts were being read out in Dzongkha - to culprits who were largely Lhotshampas who didn’t understand a word of the language. Then one day, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo is supposed to have questioned the High Court on how justice was seen to be served - when the culprits who had to understand what they were being charged with - was being done so in a language that they didn’t understand.

That is exactly what is happening now - in the common fora being conducted all over the country.

On the one hand it is clearly evident that most of the speakers are unskilled in the Dzongkha language. Thus, majority of the speakers stutter and stammer and choke on their words, as they struggle with Dzongkha words that are quite obviously new and unfamiliar to themselves. Most candidates come through as shamefully incompetent. On the other hand, three fourths of the national audience - other than those in the western part of the country - are not Ngalongs. They are either Sharchops, Lhotshampas or Khenpas who do not speak or understand Dzongkha. Thus, you can see that most of the audience in the common fora are clueless about the halting words and disjointed sentences that drone away as they sit on the floor, like zombies.

It is a pity! Here is a case of the medium killing the message.

If the common forum is to serve a useful purpose; if it is to be a process of education for the voters, then these forums need to be conducted in a language that can be spoken with ease by the speakers and one that can be understood by the audience. Dzongkha language as a medium of communications is a poor and inappropriate choice - atleast for the Eastern, Central and Southern Dzongkhags. It is like speaking astronomy to an audience wholly comprised of medical students. If any sense is to be made, a Khengpa Candidate should speak Khengkha to a gathering of Khengpas! Otherwise the common forums are a total waste of time and resource.

Even worst, over time, there is a real danger of the voters suffering fatigue - from an overdose of bombardment of senseless words and unrealistic promises that are an insult to the Bhutanese people's intelligence. This could result in poor voter turn-out during the D-Day: the polling day of the General Rounds!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

ECB Rule on Party Candidate Substitution - Post Primary Round

A notification from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) issued on the 17th of May, 2013 attempts to clarify the rules concerning substitution of candidates by political parties - post Primary Round. For those of us for whom the issue of swapping candidates by political parties has become a matter of great concern, this is welcome news.

Having noticed the glaring synonymy in the line of arguments being pursued by candidates of some select parties during the common forum discussions that are currently under way around the country, it is now beyond doubt that certain political parties have, as rumoured, forged secret alliances - the sole purpose being to defeat a targeted rival party. This is a case of political parties sacrificing the interest of the country and the people of Bhutan - at the altar of their greed and ambition - to win at all costs. This is the brand of politicking we do not need and, thus, every Bhutanese is duty bound to combat such dishonorable behavior by political parties!

The ECB has now clarified that a candidate can be substituted only under following circumstances:

(a).  if a candidate dies;
(b).  if a candidate is unable to contest due to physical incapacitation;
(c).  if the candidature of a candidate is not accepted by the Returning Officers;
(d).  if the candidature of a candidate is cancelled on grounds of violation of the Laws

        during the course of election campaigning; and finally;

There is some ambiguity about the last rule that deals with a political party wishing to substitute a candidate from another political party:

(e).  if a political party, under Section 209 (c) of the Election Act, decides to

        register and nominate a candidate from another party that did not
        make it for the General Election with registration in
        original Party being forfeited.

The last item at (e) above leaves a bitter aftertaste - after all the sweetness. This particular clause veridates horse dealing - which vilifies clean and honorable politics.

The Section 209 (c) of the Election Act needs to be amended - to disallow cross-party candidate swapping. Also, the term “forfeited” is confusing. What if the original party has not accepted the forfeiture of the nominated candidate’s membership - for whatever reason? Is the ECB going to impose forceful forfeiture on the party of the candidate wishing to migrate to another party?

Attached below is the most CURRENT list of Candidates registered with the ECB by the four political parties qualified to contest in the Primary Rounds:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Case of Two Who Got Away - Part II

It took two days of strenuous deliberations for the eminent members of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) to arrive at a decision with respect to their two wayward members who, as admitted by RCSC Commissioner Bachu Phub Dorji, “have breached civil service code of conduct” in joining political parties while still being members of the Civil Service. The decision of the Commission, as reported in the Kuensel issue of 16th May, 2013, is that the two teachers should be asked to “compulsorily retire” with immediate effect.

Excuse me, but isn’t that exactly what the teachers have asked? - that they be retired from the Civil Service - in order that they can join politics? Why did the RCSC take two days to deliver a decision that is exactly what the teachers had all along been asking? And, by the way, giving the erring civil servants “full post-retirement benefits” is considered “major penalty”?

I think the RCSC is missing out on the long-term implications of their decision. I think they are setting a precedence that is going to haunt them over the years.

I can understand that the RCSC has been placed in a difficult position - given that a wrong decision could cause further chaos and confusion to the already bewildering state of affairs that is currently prevailing in the electoral process that is currently underway. Sadly, the RCSC's decision causes even more confusion. I think they could have come up with a more credible decision. A more sensible pronouncement could have redeemed the teachers of the ethical and moral baggage that they now have to carry around them. Since the teachers’ have been charged on grounds of inappropriate conduct, by default, the uprightness and integrity of the political parties who employed them will stand to be questioned.

Kuensel further quotes; “Chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said their understanding of compulsory retirement was “honourable discharge” and that they welcome the news”.

What is implied is that “honourable discharge” is not tantamount to dismissal. In other words, the Chief Election Commissioner is implying that the two teachers have been consigned to the realm of the Purgatory - the middle realm. They are neither in hell nor in heaven. Thus, the ECB’s rule of disallowing “dismissed employees” from contesting in elections, would not be applied. 

That is all hunky-dory - but now we need to wait and see how the ECB will explain away that small matter surrounding the issue of the teachers being APOLITICAL beings and how then can still remain to be candidates of two political parties. Remember, even as I write this, the "honourable discharge" has not taken place.

Frankly, all this to me is an exercise in academia. For the good of the country and the electoral process, I would prefer that no big deal is made of the issue at this late stage. As far as I am concerned, given the lack of any credible choice, and the precariousness of our financial condition, I would prefer that we give the Primary Round a complete miss. However, since that is no longer plausible, I am personally in favour of the disqualified BKP being reinstated to contest the Primary Rounds. After all, it seems that BKP got disqualified because they were honorable enough to follow the ECB rules while, ironically, those parties that disregarded the rules, went on to qualify.

From all indications, the 2013 Parliamentary Elections is going to be an eventful one. If rumours are to be believed, even more bizarre occurrences are in the works. For size, try this: there is a strong rumour that secret alliances have already been forged between parties.

Those of you who are so eager to quote the Constitution should know that this is completely against the very spirit of our Constitution. In the coming weeks, this will be the subject that I will most actively broach on! Because, the very essence of our Constitution defining our democracy as a two-party Parliamentary Democracy is based on the fact that collusive party politics and horse-trading among political parties is the worst form of democracy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Case of Two Who Got Away

The case of the two civil servants who have been allowed by the ECB to register themselves as candidates of two political parties contesting the Primary Rounds, while still being employed as civil servants, is most intriguing. It will be interesting to see how the ECB and the RCSC will resolve this issue and still remain within the bounds of their respective laws.

The ECB has taken the stand that their rules do not require a candidate to produce NOC from their last employers - atleast not for the Primary Round of Elections. Therefore, in their interpretation of the rules, the two civil servants need not produce NOC from their employers - the RCSC - implying that the ECB is still within the rules - in having accepted their candidatures.

Fair enough. However, the fact that these two civil servants have not yet been released from their government jobs means that they are still civil servants. Thus, even if it were to be accepted that no NOC is required to be filed by these two government employees, how can the ECB justify accepting the candidatures of two APOLITICAL persons to be registered as political party candidates? That is most definitely against their rules.

The third issue is that even if we accept that the Electoral Rules in force do not require the ECB to require candidates of political parties to file NOCs from their last employers; that even if we were to accept that two APOLITICAL persons were erroneously accepted as candidates to an elective office, what will the ECB's stand be - should the RCSC decide to terminate the two civil servants - on the grounds that (a) they have broken the rules of employment in the civil service and (b) that they have gone against the ECB Rules, as well as their own, which requires them to be apolitical while still being employed as civil servants?

We have to remember that one other rule of the ECB clearly states that no persons terminated or dismissed from their jobs can be accepted as a candidate of a political party.

It will also be interesting to see how the RCSC will rule. Their rule clearly states that it is an offense for a member of the civil service to be engaged in any form of political activity.

One of the reasons given out by candidates and political parties is that ECB has given them insufficient time to organize themselves as a result of which some of them were hard-pressed to come up with the required number of 47 candidates. That is rather lame - like the DPT President said in response to a similar question during the President’s Debate at the RTC, it would be shameful of any one to say that five years is too short a time in which to organize themselves.

If political parties do not have the wherewithal to organize 47 candidates in five years, I want to know how they are going to govern this country? Something serious to ponder about!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Anomaly of Constitutional Proportions

In the run up to the second parliamentary elections due in the next few weeks, one of the greatest threats facing the country today is that the wrong people may get voted into our Upper and Lower Houses of the Parliament.

The recently announced NC election results give me the shivers! What possible explanations can there be to justify the preference of a young growing buck over the vastly experienced, mature, wise and competent candidate like Dr. Jaggar Dorji? Obviously, the voters had very poor understanding of the competence level and the job description of a National Council Member.

In an effort to understand how such an abnormality can be allowed to be perpetrated, I sat down to re-read the Constitution - the mother of all laws. And therein lay the mystery! Read the following provisions in the Constitution:

The Constitution provides that any Bhutanese who is 25 years of age and has a college degree can become a Member of either the Upper, or the Lower House of the Parliament. To be elected to the highest body of the Legislative and the Executive, EXPERIENCE is not prerequisite! Any greenhorn, all of 25 years of age will do, THANK YOU!

By contrast, certain job markets in the country advertises job vacancies with the following requirements:

As you can see, Shearee Square Super Store will not give employment to a sweeper unless she/he has 3 years of sweeping experience and is aged between 30 to 45 years! Similarly, M/s Kelwang Pvt. Ltd. requires that any one wishing to apply for the post to drive one of their Vibratory Road Rollers or Tractors should have a minimum of 3 years’ experience.

What were our lawmakers thinking when they decided that a person aged 25 years and with experience less than that of a sweeper can be elected to our Parliament to legislate laws that will help govern the country?

This country is in serious trouble!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kabney & Patang

The triviality to which the Kabney and Patang have been subjected to by some people in the aftermath of the dissolution of the first Parliament of Bhutan is most unfortunate. The donning of the Kabney and the Patang is governed by a rigid set of rules that is a part of our living culture and tradition. Other than as an act of affront, no person who has been awarded the Patang and Kabney may disrobe himself of the Kabney or the Patang as and when he pleases.

The Patang symbolizes authority and the Kabney denotes honour. Only the Druk Gyalpo bestows both these symbols of authority and honour upon the wearer. Thus, other than the King himself, no authority or institution has the power to order the disrobing of a legitimate recipient of these regalia. Since an honour conferred by the King is for life, the recipient wears the Kabney until the end of his life. However, since the Patang symbolizes authority, the wearer is required to relinquish it upon retirement from active official duty - when his authority ceases.

One of the seventeen Committee Members who authored the manual titled “DRIGLAM NAMZHAG” said that the Kabney and the Patang is so important that in the past, the death of every Nyi-Kyelma had to be reported to the King. Along with the report, the following items - known as ZHIDOE - belonging to the deceased had to be submitted to the King:

..   Bura Namza (Kabney)
..   Patang
..   Gho
..   Ptitala
..   Jandom
..   Phechung
..   Zhecha: Set of 2

The Dress Code

The wearing of the Gho, Namza (Kabney), Patang, Tshoglham and the Losil are all explicitly defined - for each rank: Minister, Deputy Minister, Nyi-Kyelma and the Royal Advisory Councilor. The manual titled “Driglam Namzhag” defines the following dress code for officials of the rank of Nyi-Kyelma and above:

The Minister’s Gho should be drawn up just below the knees. His Lagyen should be folded up one Tho and his Tego collar folded down two fingers width. The color of the Tshogyug can be any color. The Tshonglham Kor must be either light red or orange in color. The Kabney must be orange in color and should be twenty one Tho in length and six Tho in breadth. The left end of the Kabney must be folded into seven folds and drawn over the left shoulder. The end of the Patang must protrude a little below the Kabney. During an audience with the King, it is not permitted to place the hand on the Patang or over its handle.

Deputy Minister
A Deputy Minister must wear his Gho at knee length and the Lagyen should be folded up one Chatho. The Tego collar must be folded one Sor. The Tshogyug can be any color. The Tshoglham Kor must be light red. The sword must be worn on the right and the Losil on the left. The Kabney must be twenty one Tho in length and five Tho in breadth. A Deputy Minister is not entitled to the fold in the front of his Kabney like that of a Minister.

Nyi-Kyelma and Royal Advisory Councilors
The rights and privileges of the Nyi-Kyelma and the Royal Advisory Councilors are the same as those of the Deputy Minister but a Nyi-Kyelma will wear red Kabney while the Royal Advisory Councilors will wear blue Kabney. The color of their Tshoglham Kor will be red.

All the three Illustrations above were reproduced from the manual titled "DRIGLAM NAMZHAG"
Written Rule/Oral-Historical Record
In the absence of a written rule concerning the Kabney and the Patang, every one seems to want to put out a theory - most often, one that fits in with their own agenda. Because it suites their purpose, they chose to ignore the oral traditions and the historical records that should provide them with pointers on how to behave like cultured members of the Bhutanese society.

It is not entirely true that there are no written rules governing the Kabey and the Patang.

In its DRAFT version, "The Parliamentary Entitlements Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008" attempted to rationalize the issues surrounding the Kabney and the Patang but was excluded from the final version on the grounds that a separate discussion on the matter was needed. More likely, the item (proposed as Article 24 in the Draft Act) was removed from the final Act because the proposed Article undermined certain provisions contained in the Constitution.

The “Rules & Regulations of the Royal Advisory Council, 1993” which came into effect as of 1st August, 1993 has the following Provision:


5.6   On retirement or resignation, a Councillor is allowed to

        wear blue kabney without patang.

The above rule clearly proves that since the Kabney and the Patang was granted by His Majesty the King, in keeping with the custom and tradition, a retired Councilor was allowed to continue to wear his Kabney even after his term of office was over.

A Resolution of the 81st Session of the National Assembly states as follows:

3. Driglam Namzhag, National Dress and Culture

The National Assembly resolved that any civil servant who has been awarded Patang and Kabney by observing Phuensum Tshogpai Tendrel prior to the 81st session of the National Assembly can continue wearing Patang and Kabney even after their transfer to any other government organizations.

The National Assembly resolved that henceforth Patang and Kabney awarded other than by the His Majesty the King, specially designed to identify the position of the officers of the Dzongkhag Administrations, Judicial Courts and Dungkhags could be worn only during the occupation of such posts and should not wear if they were transferred to different ministries, departments and organizations.

There is absolutely no ambiguity in the above National Assembly Resolution. The Kabney and the Patang NOT awarded by His Majesty the King but were worn to distinguish different positions of the officers serving in the Dzongkhag Administrations, Judicial Courts and Dungkhags should be relinquished once they move out of these organizations.

In my understanding, there is no confusion - all those who received their Kabney and Patang from His Majesty the King should be honoured to continue to wear the Kabney - sans the Patang.