This week, the nation held its third round of elections for the National Council, which elected twenty representatives.

Unlike the National Assembly, the National Council is a direct election where voters have the responsibility to choose their preferred candidate to represent them. Congratulations to the newly elected members of the National Council. However, the road ahead is challenging for these individuals as the nation is currently undergoing a radical transformation. They will need to be prepared to face the significant challenges that lie ahead as the House of Review.

During the public consultation of Draft Constitution, His Majesty the Fourth King emphasized that “it is the duty of the National Council to maintain and ensure checks and balances of the ruling party, the opposition party, and the ministers. It is their duty to see if the ruling party and the opposition in the parliament are deliberating, legislating, and implementing policies in the interest of the people and the country. They are there to see if the work done by parliament is in the national interest.”

 Furthermore, unlike other bicameral systems such as India’s Rajya Sabha and the United States’ Senate, Bhutan’s National Council is apolitical in nature, meaning it does not belong to any political party. During the public consultations in Chukha, the Great Fourth stated that if the NC is kept like in other countries, Bhutan will have the same as other countries.  Thus, he said: “if the council is not made apolitical, then having a separate body of the council is of no use.” The NC Act further iterates that “a member of the National Council shall neither be influenced by any political party in their performance nor will campaign for any political party or candidate.”

As our newly elected members begin their journey soon, it is of paramount importance to keep such wisdom from the throne in mind.

 Constitutionally, the National Council is expected to perform two major functions: legislative and review. Besides its legislative functions, the NC is required to review matters affecting the security, sovereignty, and interests of the nation and people. This serves as a check and balance to ensure that the government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfils the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, bills and other legislation, and scrutiny of state functions.

 The National Council Act recognises the importance of dissenting opinions and ensures that they are given a platform which is a pivotal democratic society, particularly in a young democratic nation like ours. Dissent allows for a diversity of perspectives and encourages critical thinking, which is necessary for making informed decisions.

 After being elected, individuals will soon be bestowed with the authority and opportunity to serve their nation. During their public campaigns, many promised to serve in the best interest of the nation and to strengthen the rule of law. Unlike the bureaucracy, which often operates in secrecy and can remain in power for years without the public’s ability to remove them, National Council members are directly subjected to public scrutiny and observation. This makes NC to greater public criticism, including negative comments. Therefore, unlike other positions, this role will test the confidence and dignity of the elected members over the next five years. The members must view such criticisms with professionalism rather being reactive as public servant.  

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.