The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) lodged a complaint with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) yesterday against the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) candidate from Khar-Yurung in Pemagatshel and calling for a cancellation of her candidature.

DNT, in a press release issued yesterday, said the DPT candidate, Tshering Choden, in the recent public debate indicated committing to give census to children born of Bhutanese mothers from foreign spouse.

“Such a pledge is not just a violation of the recent ECB rule, but that of the Constitution and the electoral laws and its list of ethical codes to abide by during the electoral process,” it stated. “Grant of census, like citizenship, is a prerogative of His Majesty The King. Any attempt to abuse such a privilege is in violation of the Constitution (Article 2, 16b) and section 525 of the Election Act.”

DNT claimed that the party acknowledges that the census is a genuine concern of many people and political parties are only conduits to addressing this issue and not the authority. “Such gross negligence and ignorance of duty to the nation on the part of the candidate and the party it represents, witnessed nationwide through a public forum of an act of violation of the Constitutional provision and the electoral laws, is something DNT will not tolerate.”

In the complaint letter to the ECB by the party’s general secretary, Phurba, questioned whether the DPT candidate or the DPT party, even after winning the election, has the authority to grant census or not?

The letter also questioned whether such unlawful promises and remarks could be used during the live debate to lure the votes. “This is a blatant act of undue influence by DPT and its candidate and is a direct attempt to usurp the prerogative of His Majesty The King.  In the process, the said party and the candidate directly attempted to gain undue advantage over our party, DNT and in particular over the DNT candidate from the said constituency.”

It also stated that the act is also gross violation of section 525 of the Election Act, which prohibits the usage of any Royal patronage. “The DPT and its candidate, by guaranteeing census, which is the Royal prerogative of His Majesty The King, has breached the divine provision of the Constitution and the code of conduct enshrined in the Electoral Laws of the Kingdom of Bhutan.”

It stated that the very purpose of Section 525 of the Election Act is to prohibit such undue and unlawful act. It also stated that the pledge was never reflected in their manifesto and therefore, is against the recent directives issued by ECB to the political parties not to make any pledges outside their manifesto.

DNT submitted to ECB to consider the act as contravention of section 308 of the Election Act. “Therefore, the candidature of Mrs. Tshering Choden of Khar-Yurung Constituency for Druk Phunsum Tshogpa be disqualified under section 179 (l) of the Election Act.”

Tshering Choden told Kuensel that she was pointing out the issue women faced in the country and tried to explain the problems of children born out of wedlock.

She said she meant her party would carry out a study on children born out of wedlock and try to facilitate how it could be addressed through policies.

“I didn’t say I or the party would give census, as I understand it is the prerogative of the head of the state,” she said. “I was only talking about the problems of fatherless children.”

Tshering Choden also said that she was trying to say it is not clear where the fathers are and did not specifically say foreigners.

She said she has received calls from the dzongkhag election coordinator and returning officer (RO) for an explanation. “I have apologised to them, saying I didn’t mean to violate any electoral laws and that my intentions were clear.”

Meanwhile, People Democratic Party’s (PDP) manifesto 2018 subsection 5.4 on women and children mentions a similar pledge. It states, “We shall study the issue of civil registration of fatherless children and come up with appropriate recommendations and strategies to address the issue.”

ECB officials did not respond to Kuensel’s calls.

Tashi Dema and Kelzang Wangchuk