Bhutan Medical and Health Council (BMHC) has written to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) to give it a list of medical and health professionals who have joined political parties to contest in the upcoming election. The Council wrote the letter in May.

This was after the Council issued a notification in April this year, notifying all medical and health professionals registered with the Council, aspiring to contest for the election that their registration will be suspended until the end of the election period. 

The notification, citing clause 11.34 of Political Party rules of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2015, also states that during the period, they are not allowed to carry out any professional practice. 

“To practice, medical and health professionals who have contested in the election should get clearance from the ECB to revoke the suspension,” the notification states.

BMHC’s registrar, Sonam Dorji, said the notification was issued after some political parties complained to the health ministry that some party candidate who are doctors are seeing patients during the election campaign period. 

He said the health ministry referred the complaint to the council since it is not within the ministry’s jurisdiction and it was related to practice. “We referred our Act and regulations and there were no provisions which say anything about allowing or not allowing a medical and health professional to see patients during the campaign period.”

He said, the Council wrote to the ECB and asked what the election Act and rules and regulations say.

In response, the ECB, on March 30, wrote to the Council citing a provision, which states that it is not allowed because it is not in line with the principle of level playing field.

Section 11.34 of Political Party rules of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2015, states that a political party, candidate, any individual or organisation, during an election period shall not serve meals, entertain or make donations or carry out activity of any kind which may benefit or damage the electoral prospects of any party or candidate or may be construed as coercion or inducement or a prohibited electoral practice under the laws. 

“We feel that it is the Council’s responsibility to inform our medical and health professionals to refrain from such a thing through this notification,” Sonam Dorji said.

Medical and health professionals in political parties

There are five medical doctors who have joined political parties to date. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has two while Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) have one each.

Sonam Dorji said the Council issued the notification as per the election law. “When we say not allowed, we had to do it from the Council’s procedural point of view. So, when we say suspension, it means they are legally not allowed to practice.”

He said the suspension is in effect only until the election is over. “The suspension will be revoked once they get a clearance letter from the ECB after the election. They are then allowed to practice again provided it is in line with government policy. This is because any political party or party candidates are governed by the election laws.”

Sonam Dorji clarified that deregistration is the last resort and it only happens if a medical or health professional is convicted under a criminal offence or if they have performed gross negligence resulting in a patient’s death or disability.

“All medical professionals are registered with us and we thought it is our moral duty to inform them that as per the election law, they are not allowed,” he said. “It is not fair if we keep the registration valid and say not allowed.”

DNT’s candidate from Lingmukha – Toedwang constituency in Punakha, Dr Tandi Dorji, questioned why the Council cited election Act and issued a notification. “It is not their mandate or their concern. BMHC is not the authority to issue clauses on anything related to elections.”

Dr Tandi Dorji said if there is a breach of the BMHC’s act and regulations, then the Council has the right to say it is not allowed. “We did not breach any Act or rules of the BMHC that is why we are saying they have no authority to do this.”

They are doing this to level playing field while the clause basically states that nobody should bribe, give food or give anything that will put voters in their favour, he said. “They think that doctors see patients to gain favours from voters. If this is the case then all doctors will win the election. No doctor has won the election to date.”

Dr Tandi Dorji pointed out that there are candidates who are of various professions like lawyer, engineer and businessmen who are using their professional background to help their voters like giving legal advice, make drawings, and business plans.

If this is the case, he said the ECB should notify that all professional couldn’t practice his or her profession. “In this case, it is only for medical and health professional, why?”

Dr Tandi Dorji also questioned why a doctor who joins politics should get a letter from ECB to practice again when other professions don’t.

“We don’t practice during the election period. I have contested in two elections in 2008 and 2013 and both times during the election period, we do not practice,” he said. “First, we are busy and don’t have time to see patients. Second, we are aware of the election Act where it clearly states that during this period we cannot practice.”

ECB issued the notification since 2008 election, he said.

The election period begins when the ECB announces the date of election until the end of the election (90 days).

PDP’s Jomotsangkha-Martshala constituency in Samdrupjongkhar’s candidate, Dr Lobzang Dorji said he talked with the BMHC and was told that the suspension is only during the time of the election period. “If the suspension is temporary and if it is to provide level playing field to all political candidates and party then I feel it is okay.”

If the suspension is indefinite, then it is not legal, he said.

Dr Lobzang Dorji said he was told that in emergency cases, they could treat patients. “ECB should be issuing the notice, not the BMHC.” 

Meanwhile, BKP’s Chhoekhor – Tang constituency in Bumthang’s candidate Dr Leki Wangdi said it is necessary to suspend any commercial license and medical registration while contesting as a candidate of a political party for free and fair election.

There are chances that a candidate who is a medical doctor treating a patient during an election period would influence voters. “I support the suspension of the registration during the election period.”

Dr Samdrup R Wangchuk, DPT’s candidate for Kanglung-Udzorung-Samkhar constituency in Trashigang said joining politics is a sacred duty and not a curse. “As such joining politics should not invite punishment of deregistration.”

Dechen Tshomo