Constitutionality, affordability of pledges dominate campaigns

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has said that it will not resort to criticising the manifesto of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which is questioning the constitutionality of the former’s pledge to provide free education up to class 12.

Speaking at a campaign meeting at Yangnyer in Trashigang yesterday, DNT president Lotay Tshering said that party presidents should focus on their party’s goodwill and pledges for promotion during campaigns instead of critiquing and commenting on others’ manifesto.

“Whichever party comes we will only talk about our own manifesto and not criticise other party policies.” “There is no need for the two parties to get involved in criticising each other,” he said.

The DNT president said that he was not aware of DPT’s pledges but that it was his responsibility to explain his party’s manifesto to the people. He said that it was for the people to vote for his party if they liked the manifesto.

“The campaign period has started. It appears that they have nothing to pledge since they are only criticising our manifesto,” the DNT president said.

However, DPT president Pema Gyamtsho said that politics was about policies and plans based on the pledges and promises of parties. “If we do not talk about the merits and demerits of these pledges, on what basis should voters decide? Definitely not on character assassination of candidates or on the promise of appointing ministers.”

DNT, he said, was free to criticise its pledges if they feel that they are not feasible, as it would give the party an opportunity to explain. “Likewise, if their pledges are genuine and viable, they should seize the opportunity to explain. I can’t understand why we are accused of negative campaigning when all we did was comment on their pledges.”

Class X cutoff point

Lotay Tshering said that doing away with the cutoff point in class 10 would enable children from poor families to pursue education up to class 12.

“We have only one Constitution in the country. Our pledge doesn’t contradict with the Constitution unless DPT has a different Constitution to refer,” he said.

Lotay Tshering said that the inability of students to continue their education from class 10 was one of the reasons for youth problems. According to him, providing free education up to class 12 would not cost more than half a billion ngultrums.

He said it was time Bhutan provided free education until class 12. The state in future, he said, should provide free education even beyond class 12.

However, DPT has said that the DNT’s pledge to provide free education up to class 12 contradicts Article 9(16) of the Constitution, which states, “The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

According to DPT, the constitutional provision mandates the government can provide free education only up to class 10 and that the pledge cannot be fulfilled.

Education up to 10th standard is considered basic in Bhutan and twelfth standard is categorised as higher education. The submission of raising the level of free education up to 12th standard during the first parliamentary session was not considered for the reason that education was very expensive.

Maternity Allowance

Lotay Tshering also responded to DPT’s criticisms against DNT’s pledge to provide maternity allowance of Nu 5,000 a month for six months.

“The DPT is mocking our pledge to provide maternity allowance for rural women. Investing in the health of our mothers and children would strengthen the foundation of the country,” the DNT president said.

Lotay Tshering said that the party’s manifesto was framed based on proper research and that its programmes are targeted to benefit the poor. “Our programmes will benefit the people.”

However, speaking in Sarpang on September 27, the DPT president argued that it would be expensive for the country to provide maternity allowance and that the money should instead be invested in programmes that would ensure the future of the children. Each mother would be entitled Nu 30,000 if the pledge is to be implemented.

“Where will the money come from? We should not be swayed by such promises. We will not be able to achieve self-sufficiency if we go on spending on freebies more than what we generate,” he said, requesting voters not to be lured by short-term promises.

Pema Gyamtsho added, “The government didn’t provide our mothers maternity allowances during the time we didn’t have enough. People today are able to provide the needs of their kids.”

The DPT president argued said that the promise was not only unsustainable but also difficult to implement since the allowances are meant only for rural mothers. Many mothers, he said, resided away from their dzongkhag.

“It’s not the government’s role to provide kidu. Our job is to strengthen the economy and country. We should leave the prerogative to grant kidu with the Druk Gyalpo,” Pema Gyamtsho said.

The country, he said, would become poor if the government goes on distributing freebies. “We receive financial help from other countries where freebies are not given.”

 

MB Subba 

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