In a written clarification submitted to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has denied that education minister Norbu Wangchuk violated the Election Act during his recent tour of four gewogs in Trashigang’s Radhi-Sakteng constituency.

The education minister last month held public meetings in Merak, Sakteng, Radhi and Phongmey gewogs.

After the visit, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) on December 25, 2017 filed a complaint with the ECB requesting for action against the minister and PDP for using an official visit to introduce and promote its candidate for the constituency, Karma Chophyel.

DNT claimed that among those accompanying the minister was Karma Chophyel, who DNT claims was given a seat on the stage alongside the minister.

However, PDP general secretary Sonam Jatso said the meetings were called to share with the people the education plan for the 12th Plan and receive feedback.

PDP on January 22 wrote to the ECB, stating that the education minister during the gewog meetings never introduced its candidate to the public. “We would also like to inform that Karma Chophyel is not even a registered member of the party.”

PDP also stated that Karma Chophyel had not introduced himself as the PDP candidate in any of the public gatherings in the presence of the minister.

The education minister, it claimed, was accompanied to all four gewogs by the dzongdag and the chief education officer. PDP added that the allegations made by the DNT and clarifications submitted by the party can be corroborated by the public officials who accompanied the minister.

The meeting, PDP wrote, was also intended to clarify certain miscommunications that Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and DNT members had spread on issues such as national debt, central schools and privatisation of health care services.

“The MP of DPT and the DNT candidate and party members had earlier in their meetings with the public misinformed the people that JDWNR hospital was going to be privatised and that people will have to pay for medical services,” PDP stated.

“They have also told people that the national debt was alarming and that each household would eventually have to clear the debt. The DNT candidate had also said that the central schools would be closed as they were unsustainable,” PDP stated.

According to PDP, the education minister clarified during the gewog meetings that JDWNR hospital would not be privatised, explained that the national debt was not an alarming matter and that the people would not be asked to pay for the national debt. Lyonpo, according to PDP, also clarified that central schools were good investments and that they should be continued in the 12th Plan.

PDP stated that lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk in the capacity of being a member of the cabinet also appraised the public on the government’s achievement during its term from 2013 to 2017.

ECB’s Secretary Dawa Tenzin said the commission would soon review the arguments of both PDP and DNT. The ECB secretary said the matter was nothing serious.

Although the complaint letter mentions only the education minister, DNT’s general secretary Tenzin Lekphel said that Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) was also violating the law by introducing candidates during his recent tour of southern dzongkhags in Samtse and Tsirang.

Pema Gyamtsho said he did not see the introduction of candidates by him in violation of electoral laws. He said he was touring the dzongkhag in the capacity of a party president, opposition leader and citizen and that it was important for him to introduce candidates to promote a transparent democracy.

“Otherwise we would be playing hide and seek politics,” he said.

The opposition leader said that whatever DPT candidates and members have been informing the people about were based on what transpired in Parliament. “We never said that JDWNR hospital would be corporatised. We only highlighted about how we argued in Parliament against the idea of corporatiation of JDWNRH,” he said.

He said the opposition has been highlighting only the problems related to central schools such as the impact on parent-child bond.

Tenzin Lekphel claimed his party had not spread misinformation in any of the constituencies. “We have a photograph of Karma Chophyel beside the minister on the stage and a video. What was Karma Chophyel doing with the education minister, the dzongdag and the DEO at an official meeting on the stage?” he said.

In its complaint to ECB, DNT stated, “We would like to request ECB to take action against the minister and PDP on the violation of electoral laws and misuse of state resources in carrying out party-related activities. If this is not done then it does not provide a level playing field for other parties and give the party in power immense advantages.”

DNT cited Section 299 of the Election Act, which states, “No political party or its elected representatives in the National Assembly or any official holding a public office shall use their official position for influencing voters in favour of or against any party or candidate.”

It also cited Section 300, which states, “No elected representative in Parliament, including Ministers, or Members of Local Government shall combine his/her official visit with electioneering work or make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work or use any government transport, for the furtherance of the interest of any party or candidate at an election.”

MB Subba