The founder of Druk Gaki Tshogpa, Chheku Dukpa, has challenged the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB)’s decision to deny registration for his party.

The ECB on March 15 decided to refuse registration of the party, citing irregularities in the names of party members, lack of potential candidates for all 47 constituencies, and lack of clarity concerning party ideology.

However, Chheku Dukpa said he was taking the issue to the Supreme Court on Tuesday using Article 21, Section 18 of the Constitution to seek reversal of the commission’s decision.

According to the Section, a person has the right to approach the courts in matters arising out of the Constitution or other laws subject to section 23 of Article 7.

He also questioned the credibility of the ECB, stating that it had failed to work in compliance with the election Act. He said that it was not within electoral laws for the commission to ask for a complete list of candidates when a party filed for registration.

“An application for registration is different from a letter of intent to contest an election,” he said, adding that a party, needs to file a list of candidates only while it files a letter of intent to contest an election.

The commission in a notification issued on March 16 stated that the applicant party did not submit potential candidates for half of the 47 constituencies.

Chheku Dukpa said ECB could have violated the Constitution. “The Constitution says the election commission should function as per electoral laws, but it didn’t,” he said.

One of the commission’s concerns was on the preparedness of the applicant party to contest elections in the near future. However, Chheku Dukpa said that there was no requirement for the party to contest 2018 elections.

The party submitted a final list of 308 registered members, but the commission stated the names of 29 members were not found in the electoral roll. The ECB also stated that the applicant party did not have members in two constituencies.

Chheku Dukpa, however, said that the need for a broad-based membership as prescribed in electoral laws did not mean that a party should have members from every constituency for registration.

He said: “If a party can be disqualified due to lack of members in two constituencies, old parties could have been disqualified too.” He said at some point, some of the parties didn’t have members in all dzongkhags, let alone constituencies.

He said his party had members from all 20 dzongkhags.

The ECB said not even a single party member possessed or had demonstrated leadership ability at the national level or had experience of having held an office of public responsibility and authority.

Chheku Dukpa, however, argued that the election commission ought to leave this judgement on the people.

In terms of the profile of the candidates in the list that was submitted, election commission found that 20 were in the age group of 25 to 35 years and four between 35 to 45 years, and one was 46 years old.

The ECB also raised serious concerns on the party ideology, which it said mentioned nothing about how the substantive task of national development was envisioned, thereby appearing to be not prepared for a national mandate.

However, Chheku Dukpa said: “They (ECB) have also failed to understand the aspirations and aims and objectives of the party by not considering the other important provisions of the charter.  The party ideology cannot capture everything.”

According to section 139 of the Election Act 2008, the election commission shall refuse an application for the registration if it feels that the charter does not demonstrate that the party is broad-based with cross-national membership and support, and is committed to national cohesion and stability. A party also should not restrict its membership based on region, gender, language, religion, or other status, the election Act states.

Section 135 of the Act states that an application for registration shall contain the name of the party and the list of its members and the names and addresses of its President, Secretary, Treasurer and other office-bearers. The application should also contain details about whether it has any local units, if so, at what levels among other details.

Also, Section 131 of the Act states: “A party of individual citizens of Bhutan calling itself a political party and intending to contest elections under this Act shall submit its application to the election commission for its registration as a political party for the purposes of this Act.”

The ECB’s spokesperson Phub Dorji said that the decision was taken as per the law and that he would not comment if Chheku Dukpa decides to move court.

MB Subba