The election process will begin from February
Unlike the 2013 elections, the incumbent National Council (NC) members who wish to re-contest in 2018 will not face confusions.
The members can re-contest without resigning from their posts.
The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) in an email interview has said that the current members’ term of office would complete on May 9, 2018. However, the election process will begin from February to ensure that the third NC is reconstituted on May 10.
All government agencies, autonomous bodies, corporations, private offices, religious organisations and the general public have been notified to avoid organising programmes and activities involving public gathering within the period of February to May.
The Parliament made it possible for the incumbent members to re-contest without resigning by amending the NC Act of 2008 in 2014. A provision was added as Section 15(A), which states: “A member of NC intending to participate in the next NC elections shall not be required to resign and may contest while in office.”
This amendment was made to ensure NC’s status as a continuous House that cannot be dissolved.
In 2013, ECB made it mandatory for members who wanted to re-contest to resign before the completion of their tenure. Members had argued that forcing them to resign before completion of the term would break the continuity of the House.
However, the re-contesting members will not wear their blue kabney and patang or gyentag during the campaign period to provide a level-playing field for all candidates.
Trongsa’s NC member, Tharchen, said as both the Constitution and the NC Act say that NC is a continuous House, members need not resign to re-contest. The re-contesting members will not be using office facilities although they will receive their salary.
NC members say that re-contesting while serving does not give them undue electoral advantage since they do not possess any executive power.
NC member from Dagana, Sonam Dorji, said that the advantage of allowing members to re-contest while serving was that they could return to Thimphu for a session in case of an emergency. “If more than 50 percent of the members resign to re-contest, there will be no quorum for an emergency session,” he said.
He said: “The re-contesting members will not use any office facilities during the election period. That way, there will be a level-playing field for both new candidates and re-contesting members.”
The Constitution states that NC should be re-constituted on the date of expiry of the term, which means that elections must be initiated and concluded before the expiry of the members’ term.
According to the Constitutional provisions, while there is a three-month period between the expiry of term of the incumbent government and reconstitution of National Assembly, there is no period in time when NC does not exist. This, NC says, was “intentionally designed” in the Constitution to provide stability and continuity to the overall governance process.
ECB has plans to conduct seminars for aspiring NC candidates and has notified them to register with ECB’s Department of Civic and Electoral Training or with the respective dzongkhag election office by September 20. ECB will work out the exact dates and venues based on the registration.
Citing Section 177(d) of the Election Act 2008, ECB clarified that “formal university degree” is required to contest in parliamentary elections. ECB made this comment against the backdrop of degrees obtained from the Gangtok-based Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) being treated as distance.
According to the government, four SMU graduates contested in the 2013 NC elections. None of them was elected.
“In this (election) Act, unless the context otherwise requires ‘formal university degree’ means a degree not lower than a Bachelor’s degree conferred on a person after having pursued a formal course of study at a university or an institution of higher learning recognised by the Royal Government of Bhutan and attested by a competent authority in the Kingdom,” ECB stated.
The university degree must be attested by ECB’s Department of Election after obtaining accreditation from Bhutan Accreditation Council. ECB said that up-to-date documents would be required to file nomination to contest the elections.