There is a change in who gets to speak in the National Assembly. The attention of the Speaker will be sought through a digital “request button” waving goodbye to the “raise your hand” practice. 

It was put in use during the first session of the third National Assembly, which  concluded recently.

It has been helpful in moderating the session, according to Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel. The Speaker said going digital saved time for the Speaker, which otherwise would have been spent on looking at who all raised their hands. “It would be very difficult for a pair of eyes to see who raised their hands first,” he said.

There is however, reservation to the change. Opposition members said the system leaves members in the dark on how requests are managed by the Speaker.

However, Wangchuk Namgyel said members should not worry about transparency. “It depends on the morality of the Speaker,” he said, adding that chances would be given irrespective of whether one belongs to the ruling party or the Opposition.

Requesting members to have trust in him, he said he would exercise his role as a non-partisan Speaker. “If somebody wants to speak, I need to allow him or her. I announce from my seat how many requests have come,” he said.

Opposition spokesperson Dorji Wangdi said that despite some improvement on the use of the request button, the Opposition felt that raising hands was the best system for maintaining transparency.

“Who raised their hands and in what sequence can be clearly known if members raise their hands. But members could be left clueless on how requests are managed by the Speaker,” Dorji Wangdi said.

He said the Opposition’s view was based on feedback received from its MPs. The use of the request button, he cautioned, could lead to curtailment of members’ speaking rights and poor quality of debate and consensus building system.

An MP, requesting anonymity said she was denied twice although she had pressed the button. She said there were chances that the Speaker could exercise his power in a biased manner.

Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo said she had no issues with the new system as the opportunity to speak were given on a first-come, first served basis.

She said the presence of the House’s Secretary General and Director besides the Speaker would help promote transparency in managing requests. “If the Tshogpon does not give you a chance despite repeatedly pressing the button, then you can raise your voice,” she said.

Haa’s Bji-Kartshog MP Ugyen Tenzin said that he preferred raising hands although he had no issue with the request button during the first session. He said all the MPs, irrespective of whether they were ministers or not, were given an equal chance.

However, he added that the use of the request button could raise concerns during deliberations on critical issues. He said the issues deliberated in the first session were not of controversial nature.

MB Subba