An aspiring political party, Druk Gaki Tshogpa (DGT) has not met two criteria as per the electoral laws and rules and cannot be registered as a political party, the High Court’s larger bench ruled yesterday.

The founder of DGT, Chheku Dukpa petitioned to the High Court seeking justifications for disqualification by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

One of the main contentions in the case was on the number of registered members an applicant political party needs and what a broad-based party mean to register.

One of the reasons for ECB not registering the party was that it did not have members in two constituencies. Of the 308 registered members, ECB found irregularities in 29 cases with names not in the electoral roll, names of religious personalities, mismatch of names and constituency mistake.    

“There are no potential candidates for half of the 47 constituencies,” the ECB notification stated.

Chheku Dukpa argued that there is no requirement to field candidates. Both ECB and Chheku Dukpa cited the same provisions in the Election Act and the political party rules 2015 with different interpretations.

The court stated that the provisions in the election Act 2008 and the Political Party Rules 2015 have to be read together.

Section 136C of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 states the copy of the Charter of the party submitted with an application shall contain provisions that the party shall demonstrate that the party is broad-based with cross-national membership and support, and is committed to national cohesion and stability.

Section 3.5.7 of the Political Party Rules 2015 states that the form submitted by a political party must contain the names of registered members from each dzongkhag along with the accounts of the fees and voluntary contributions received as on the day of the submission of the application in the Political Party Form No 2.

The court judgment stated that if an applicant political party has at least a registered member from every dzongkhag then it should be also eligible for registration.

Further, the court added that it is important to consider that these 20 members are representative of the various race, religion, and culture in the country to demonstrate cross-national membership and support.

The court also found that the DGT has not submitted the Political Party Form No 2 with details of members, their fees and voluntary contributions, as required by the rules. Chheku Dukpa had not used the form and had submitted the list of members in a separate sheet.

Does an applicant party need complete set of candidates and qualified ones at the time of registration? No, states the High Court judgment.

ECB in its public notification, on disqualification of the party from registration, states that in terms of the profile of the candidates in the list submitted, 20 were below 35 years, 4 below 45 and one is a 46-year old with no person of public standing with demonstrated experience of leading a government or public office or an established business.

The judgment stated that the law does not state the requirement of candidates from each constituency at the time of party registration and that ECB cannot impose these requirements.

The court said that the Constitution and the Election Act has provisions on the age limit, between 25 and 65 years, and that the citizens have the Constitutional right to choose.

“There is no precedence of not registering a party because it didn’t have candidates from all the constituencies,” the judgment stated.  “It does not have to have candidates at this stage of registration because it is not applying to contest in election.”

The ECB justified its decision on section 137 of the Election Act, which states that the commission shall call for other particulars, as it may deem fit, such as, the political principles on which it is based, the policies, aims and objectives it pursues or seeks to pursue.

The court took cognizance of the fact that if those individuals without proper qualification are elected to power, it would have severe repercussions to the wellbeing of the country. However, if an applicant party fulfills the requirements laid in the Constitution’s Article 15 (4) and section 135 and 136 of the Election Act, the ECB has to register the party without imposing other criteria to judge their capability.

Another reason on the disqualification according to the ECB notification was because “serious concerns remain on the Party Ideology which is found to be general and nothing is mentioned about the how the substantive task of national development is envisioned thereby appearing to be not prepared for a national mandate.”

The court, after examination of other party charters, found that the charters of those parties in Parliament did not meet the requirements that ECB set for DGT.

The charter submitted by the DGT was found to be in line with the requirements set in the election Act and the rules.

The court also ruled that the commission had followed due process and has given adequate opportunity to Chheku Dukpa, quashing his claims that it had not.

The party applied for registration to ECB on February 9 and the commission decided on March 15 to deny registration for the party.

Both parties have 10 working days to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Tshering Palden