MB Subba 

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has tightened election rules ahead of the fourth parliamentary elections to ensure that the country elects experienced candidates and to promote responsible political campaigning.

The election rules 2022, which came into effect on August 29, empowers ECB to assess not only National Council candidates but also those nominated by political parties.

A candidate must satisfy the commission that he or she is a “person of integrity, good character and reputation” as per the “framework for assessment of candidates participating in elections”.

The rules also prescribe that candidates must satisfy the commission of having five years and 10 years of working experience for National Assembly and National Council elections, respectively.

The candidates should have served in offices either in the public or private sector with “an exemplary conduct and performance”.

The rules aim to ensure that candidates “are of good standing and have suitable experience to discharge their duties and responsibilities effectively and responsibly”.

Many welcome the provisions of the new rules, which prohibit parties from pledging financial grants or projects without disclosing the source of financing them.

Unlike in the past elections, parties will not be allowed to make “unrealistic or unreasonable pledges” either in the manifesto or campaign pledges.

The rules also prohibit parties from promising changes related to tax, fiscal and financial policies that may result in a reduction of government revenues without disclosing how the political party intends to make good such reductions.

The ECB will appoint an independent committee for the evaluation of parties’ election manifestos but the commission will have the full discretion in approving the manifestos.

The rules state that the rules were framed as per the ECB’s authority under the Constitution to set out educational and other qualifications.

According to the rules, a candidate for Parliament or local government offices who resigns without “reasonable necessity”, as determined by the commission, will be fined a minimum wage of 360 days and/or refund all the state campaign funds.

Such candidates will be disqualified from all future elections. “The penalties will apply unless the candidate proves to the sole satisfaction of the ECB that the resignation was reasonably necessary. “

The grounds for such resignations that could be taken into account by the commission include physical or mental illness or any fundamental breakdown of relationship between the candidate and the party and the resignation is in the overall interest of the country.

The rules have been promulgated for maintaining a healthy electoral system and making elections free and fair.

Observers said that the new rules prohibits parties from promising freebies that could affect the economy. However, some expressed observations on the requirement of “office experience” for candidates.

Some officials from political parties said that they welcomed the new rules. A party member said that it would create a level playing field for all parties.

The rules are also aimed at ensuring electioneering conduct that “coheres with high standards of integrity, truthfulness, selflessness, loyalty and patriotism”.

This is aimed at promoting responsible political campaigning and open public debate to take place during an election period.

The rules have retained the requirement that a candidate should be 25 years of age and have a bachelor’s degree.

The parties or candidates are prohibited from indulging in any activity, which may create ill will, differences or cause tension between different communities, religious or linguistic groups.

Political parties must avoid organising public meetings and events at the same time and venue as similar political events organised by other parties.

The rules allow parties to hold consultative meetings or research in the dzongkhags and constituencies or meetings with the party coordinators during the non-election period with approval from the election commission.

However, candidates or representatives shall be allowed to conduct “smaller meetings at the community level” with prior approval from the Returning Officer.

All political parties and candidates shall, throughout the election period, publicly and repeatedly condemn violence and intimidation and avoid the use of hate speeches, language or any kind of action which may lead to violence or intimidation, whether to demonstrate party strength, gain any kind of advantage, or for any other reason.