With incumbent members of parliament introducing candidates, questions are now asked on whether introduction of candidates by a sitting MP or minister amounts to misuse of the government machinery to fulfil party works.

People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) sitting MP from Kabji-Talo in Punakha, Dophu Dukpa is taking along the constituency’s new candidate Tshering Dorji for a familiarisation tour as part of his last constituency visit. “I am going to villages to thank the people as an outgoing MP,” he said, adding that it was all right for an incumbent to introduce new candidate with the people. “I resigned voluntarily. I am telling people that the party has a better candidate.”

The MP said that other political parties should not be allowed familiarisation tours if he is not allowed to do so.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) officials say they object introducing new candidates by the sitting members of Parliament who have been replaced, saying that the sitting MPs are misusing government machinery for electoral purposes.

DNT’s general secretary, Tenzin Lekphel, said that officially the sitting MPs not only represent the party, but also are the candidates until they complete their term.

“I’m not sure whether we have clear rules on such issues, but I feel uncomfortable when the sitting MPs use their official tours to introduce new candidates,” he said. “This is a wrong trend the government is setting.”

Speaker Jigme Zangpo, MP from Mongar constituency, also inaugurated his party’s dzongkhag office in Mongar on May 16. Questions on whether this could be construed as misusing the government machinery and resources have been raised.

The Speaker said that he opened the office as a representative of the people of the constituency and the party and not as the Speaker.

“I represent the country when I am abroad. I represent the constituents and the party when I am in my constituency. When I’m in the National Assembly, I’m a non-partisan Speaker since I’m elected by both the parties,” said Jigme Zangpo.

Tenzin Lekphel said that the party had complained about a similar matter to the election commission when the education minister Norbu Wangchuk introduced Radhi-Sakteng candidate Gongsar Karma Chhopel during his visit to Trashigang last year.

After the visit, DNT on December 25, 2017 filed a complaint with the Election Commission of Bhutan seeking action against the minister and PDP for using an official visit to introduce and promote its candidate for the constituency.

Tenzin Lekphel said that the commission did not respond to the party’s complaint. “We did not file a written complaint this time because the election commission would not take any action. We lodged a formal complaint with evidence when Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk used his official tour to introduce the candidate,” he said.

PDP and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, he said, should set the right examples for future parties to follow since they are the first two parties to be elected to power.

DNT officials said that it was not only the Speaker and the Kabji-Talo MP who are introducing candidates.

When DNT lodged the complaint against the education minister, it had cited Section 299 of the Election Act, which states that “No political party or its elected representatives in the National Assembly or any official holding a public office shall use their official position for influencing voters in favour of or against any party or candidate.”

The party also cited Section 300, which states: “No elected representative in Parliament, including Ministers, or Members of Local Government shall combine his/her official visit with electioneering work or make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work or use any government transport, for the furtherance of the interest of any party or candidate at an election.”

Earlier this year, Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) had also introduced candidates during his tour of southern dzongkhags in Samtse and Tsirang.

DPT officials say there should not be an issue when a sitting MP introduces a candidate during an official visit to constituency.

The secretary of the election commission, Dawa Tenzin, chose not to comment, saying that no party has lodged any complaint with the commission. “We haven’t received any complaint.”

MB Subba