… the resignation of their MP leaves the constituents disappointed and worried 

By Rinzin Wangchuk 

The Gelephu constituency in Sarpang has been left without representation in the National Assembly (NA) since June 27 after the resignation of erstwhile Minister for Information and Communications,  Karma Donnen Wangdi.

The Speaker of the NA formally accepted Karma Donnen Wangdi’s resignation as a Member of Parliament (MP) after careful consideration and thorough deliberation, upholding the principles of governance and democratic processes.

According to a press release from the NA Secretariat, this decision was taken in accordance with Section 18 of the National Assembly Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2008. The section states that a member may resign from their seat by submitting a written request for resignation to the speaker or the Secretary-General if the House is not in session. Once accepted by the speaker, the seat becomes vacant.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel told Kuensel that he accepted MP Karma Donnen Wangdi’s resignation on medical grounds. The resignation was submitted on June 19, following a medical leave. “Despite knowing that the ongoing Parliament session starts on June 7, I granted leave for MP Karma Donnen until June 18,” said the Speaker. “Considering his health issue was equally important.”

In his letter to the Speaker, Karma Donnen stated, “It has been a painful decision to arrive at, and had it not been for some personal and unavoidable obligations, this day would have never come in my life. Even today, please know that this note comes from a hospital abroad, as I attend to my daughter’s and my own health.”

He further stated that the emotions are that of pride, nostalgia and fulfilment. It has been an absolute honour to represent the people of Sarpang for the first National Council, followed by representing Gelephu constituency in the National Assembly. “I remain grateful to them for the opportunities I received. Through highs and lows, we have worked together to inch towards our shared dreams,” he submitted to the speaker. “And with this experience, my priority in life is to continue being in service of my King and the country in any capacity possible.”

Karma Donnen said that the last four and half years in the Cabinet was a true test of human character, of striking the most difficult balance between right and popular.

Karma Donnen had to resign from the cabinet due to the reorganization of the ministries, reducing their number from 10 to 9 as part of the ongoing Civil Service reform.

Before taking medical leave, the former cabinet minister was granted a month-long transitional period to assume his role as an MP after stepping down from the ministerial position on April 28.

The press release stated that MP Karma Donnen Wangdi made commendable efforts and contributions as a representative of the Gelephu constituency and as a cabinet minister.

Will there be a  bye-election?

According to the Election Act 2008, a bye-election must be held within 90 days to fill any vacancy in Parliament and within 30 days for Local Government. However, this provision does not apply if the remainder of the term is less than 180 days, as confirmed by an official from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

The ECB issues a notification to the constituency concerned when a seat in the Parliament or Local Government becomes vacant due to death, resignation, or a declaration of void election.

As the current Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government is set to dissolve at the end of October this year, there are only four months left. “If the remaining term is less than six months or 180 days, there won’t be a bye-election,” an ECB official said.

“While we miss his professional and personal presence in the cabinet and the parliament; a party is made of members and supporters within and outside the parliament,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said, adding that Karma Donnen’s formidable personality is always there for us and DNT.”

Rules on Election  Conduct

In August of last year, the ECB began implementing strict rules regarding candidates who resign from elective office without reasonable necessity before completing their term. The Rules on Election Conduct in the Kingdom of Bhutan 2022 aim to ensure that candidates for elective posts are committed to serving the nation and its people, as well as to save resources as elections are costly for the state.

It is uncertain whether these rules will apply to MP Karma Donnen Wangdi, who resigned on medical grounds.

According to the Rules on Election Conduct, candidates who resign without reasonable necessity, as determined by the Commission, will face a fine equivalent to the minimum wage for 360 days. They may also be required to refund all state campaign funds provided for parliamentary elections or local governments. Additionally, such candidates will be disqualified from participating in future elections.

The rules state that these penalties will apply unless the candidate can prove, to the satisfaction of the Commission, that the resignation was reasonably necessary, considering circumstances such as physical or mental illness or a fundamental breakdown of the relationship between the candidate and their party. The candidate must also demonstrate that such resignation was in the overall interest of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

The Commission may assess whether the resignation was reasonably necessary, with only unavoidable circumstances qualifying as such, according to ECB officials.

Since the first parliamentary elections, six elected members including Karma Donnen Wangdi have resigned before their tenure was completed.

Constituents’ concerns

A local leader from the Gelephu constituency said that the resignation of their MP leaves the constituents disappointed and worried. The absence of the elected representative in the Parliament, according to him, will directly hamper the developmental activities in the dzongkhag and gewogs.

“We understand that only a few months have left to complete the government’s tenure, but even a single day would make a difference. When other MPs actively engage in the important issues and developmental activities in their constituencies, Gelephu constituency is the most neglected in the ongoing Parliament session,” he said.

“The recent Dzongkhag Tshogdu has submitted several important agendas to the government. We are now worried who would actively take up our issues with the government,” he said, adding otherwise the entire efforts of the local government and dzongkhag would go down the drain due to the absence of their MP at the policy deliberation.

A concerned voter said that politicians more often pledge to put the public interest above their own benefits, but the reality shows they are not concerned about the voters once elected. “We are always on the receiving end,” he said.