Even though the fourth parliamentary election is more than a year away, politicking has already started in one form or another.
However, questions about what activities political parties, especially those outside of parliament can engage in during a nonelection period, are being raised.
The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has clarified that political parties should refrain from engaging in campaigning in any form until election dates are announced.
But political parties outside of parliament say that there is a thin line on who is campaigning or not. They are of the view that rules are not applied uniformly to all parties as the ruling and opposition parties enjoy the upper hand.
Some officials from parties outside of parliament say that the ruling party could use the government machinery to prohibit other parties from engaging with the public.
The ECB, through its media unit, stated that any political parties, whether elected as government or opposition or outside of parliament, are not allowed to carry out election campaigning until the date of issue of notification by a Royal Decree calling an election.
The ECB cited Section 268 of the election Act, which prescribes: “The election campaign shall be permitted to commence from the date of issue of notification by a Royal Decree calling an election as announced, or notified in the case of Local Government elections by the Election Commission and end forty-eight hours prior to the hour fixed for the commencement of poll for the election.”
In the event of any deviation or contravention of the provisions enshrined in the relevant Acts, Rules and Regulations, Guidelines and other electoral documents, the ECB shall take appropriate punitive actions, the ECB stated.
However, the ECB clarified that registered parties are allowed to express alternative views.
Citing the electoral document titled “Political Participation”, the ECB stated: “Registered Political Parties though not in Parliament should, nevertheless, be in operation and contribute in assessing public opinions regarding pertinent Local and National issues that are under debate or provide feedback on concern that needs to be addressed by Parliament and the Government in the public interest.”
Further, it stated that political parties and candidates “having received the mandate from the people to govern the country or be in the opposition or even if not represented in parliament”, parties have the mandate of highlighting alternative policies as the voices of the people.
Section 10.7 of the Political Party Rules 2015 also states that a registered political party need not obtain specific approval to under-take political activities, such as holding consultative meetings or research in the dzongkhags or demkhongs or meetings with the respective party godenpas, jabchorpas, or leyjepas during a non-election period.
“However, basic formalities must be followed in informing the respective dzongkhags or dungkhags and law and order authorities, on any such meetings to be convened.”
A political party is also required to update its membership and submit it to the election commission on a quarterly basis.
The Charter for Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD), an initiative conceptualised in 2014 jointly by all registered political parties, states that registered oolitical parties, both in and outside parliament, can meet to propose, review and approve work plans, budget and activities.
An official from the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) earlier said that the party would be “supportive” of it if the rules prohibiting political parties from engaging with the public were implemented uniformly to all the political parties.
The People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) general secretary, Kuenga Tashi, in an earlier interview said that the party was aware that campaigning was prohibited during the non-election period and refrained from doing so.
Ruling party officials, however, said that campaign activities are monitored by the election commission and dzongkhag officials, not by the ruling party.