When the National Council members of the third Parliament took office yesterday, it marked a beginning, an end and continuity. It marked a decade of Bhutan’s transition into a constitutional democracy.
The Council is blend of change and continuity, a continuous house in our parliamentary framework. Members who took office yesterday personified this hallmark of the house. Including the five eminent members, the house has 10 incumbent members, four with teaching experience, four from business background, three from the civil service, one each with experience in the media, law, entertainment industry and parliamentary experience in the NA.
The third national council comprise of a combination of talents, skills and experience with 11 members in their 30s, six in their 40s and three in their 50’s. The reappointment of the five eminent members complements the council with their expertise, neutrality and bipartisanship. From the elections to the members taking office, the third National Council saw several firsts. The elections saw a record voter turn out and the initiation of postal ballot facilitation booths. Unlike the last round, the people have elected two female candidates. Yesterday, the house elected the 36-year-old member from Wangdue as the Chairperson, making him the youngest member to date to become the house’s chairperson.
Parliament is as much a deliberative body as it is a legislative institution. The National Council, as an apolitical body that monitors the functions of the government takes pride in and has received appreciation for the quality of debates it holds. It is a house of check and balance for it facilitates a relook at legislations that could sometimes be tabled due to political compulsions. It is not an opposition.
Social change and promotion of welfare of the people through legislations is the core of democratic governance and the National Council has played a constructive role. The last Council reviewed and amended 40 Acts mostly initiated by the government. In exercising its check and balance mandate, the Council opposed two money bills, even though it has no authority over money bills. It raised 81 constituency issues to the government and raised another 50 verbal and seven written questions to the government. While the last house ratified 14 international conventions and treaties, it objected the BBIN movement of vehicle agreement and the European Investment Bank.
Although the house is not in pursuit of power, the National Council is increasingly being seen as a stepping-stone to join political parties. It has also received criticism when it proposed that anyone aspiring to contest in the National Council elections must have a minimum work experience of 10 years. The Parliament and its elected representatives must reflect the society, its diversity and demography. Just as the country, the Parliament needs the energy of the youth and the wisdom of age.
Even with the changes the house go through, the mandate of the Council doesn’t change, which is to protect the interest of the people and the country.