In the final hearing, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) yesterday rebutted Chheku Dukpa’s appeal against the commission’s decision to deny registration to Druk Gaki Tshogpa at the High Court.

The commission’s senior legal officer Sonam Dorjee said the commission’s decision was based on the country’s electoral laws. While acknowledging the importance of political parties, he said the requirements for registration of political parties included a list of tentative candidates.

However, Chheku Dukpa argued that such a requirement would be relevant only while filing a letter of intent to contest an election. “We are not filing an application to contest an election now,” he said.

The election Act 2008 states that the membership of a political party should be broad-based.

Sonam Dorji argued that the commission’s interpretation of broad-based membership required an applicant party to have both a member and probable candidate in all 47 constituencies. “We apply the same rule to all the parties,” he said.

Druk Gaki Tshogpa had submitted a list of 25 tentative candidates.

Sonam Dorjee argued that ECB was not satisfied with the credibility of the party due to lack of members’ proven leadership capability. He also cited the party’s lack of preparedness to contest elections in the near future.

Chheku Dukpa reiterated that ECB’s responsibility was to provide a level playing field to parties and that the people would judge the capability of a party. “After the conclusion of the National Council elections, more candidates and members are expected to come forward,” he said.

ECB’s lawyer also appealed to the court to order Chheku Dukpa to delete all his social media posts regarding his party.

Sonam Dorjee added that the applicant party had included the names of a few religious personalities in the list of members. “Laws are clear that politics and religion should be kept separate,” he said.

However, Chheku Dukpa argued that he had no means to verify if any of his members were religious personalities. The legal officer argued that the party could have crosschecked by punching the identity card number on the ECB’s website.

He argued that ECB had given the party time to fulfill all the criteria as demanded by the commission. However, Chheku Dukpa argued that some of the requirements asked for by the commission were outside of electoral laws.

According to ECB, the applicant party submitted a final list of 308 registered members. In terms of the profile of candidates in the list submitted, the commission found that 20 are in the 25 to 35 years of age.

The Act states that the Election Commission shall decide either to register a party as a political party for the purposes of this Act, or refuse to register it after considering all the particulars as aforesaid in its possession and giving the representatives of the party reasonable opportunity of being heard.

Chheku Dukpa had moved court on March 23, stating that ECB had denied registration despite his party fulfilling all the requirements.

MB Subba