No democracy can be successful without a free and fair election. The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is tasked with this duty, and it has been coming up with numerous rules and measures over years.  However, concerns are now being raised when the rule says “no political party or candidate shall make any unrealistic or unreasonable pledge or promise, whether in a manifesto or campaign pledge or otherwise, any fiscal or tax or financial changes which may result in a reduction of government revenues, without disclosing the means of how the political party or candidate intends to make good such reduction.”

Establishing the ECB in 2005, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo said: “Once the Constitution is adopted and the introduction of parliamentary democracy takes place, it is of paramount importance to ensure that elections are conducted properly.” The role of the ECB is to “finalize the electoral rolls and election schedules as well as make full preparations for the supervision, direction, control and conduct of elections to Parliament and local government.” This wisdom from the great king is cemented in Article 24(1) of the Constitution to ensure elections in a free and fair manner.”  Further, under Article 23 (4) only parliament can make “provisions for all matters relating to, or in connection with, elections.” Under Article 1(1) of the Constitution “Bhutan is the Sovereign Kingdom, and the Sovereign power belongs to the people of Bhutan.” This power is exercised through Article 1(6), the right to vote. Article 23(1) states the right to vote expresses the “the general will of the people-the basis of government.”

 The recent rule on this matter seems to infringe the provisions of the Election Act and the Constitution.

Further, it will be impossible to predict the future of any political party’s competency and also their manifesto if that manifesto will need more or less financial resources. The term “unrealistic or unreasonable pledge or promise” is subjective. If ECB approves a manifesto but fails to produce results, then? The manifestos are future ambitions of political parties on which voters will assess the future of the ruling party during their five-year term. Finding funds to fulfil pledges rests with political parties if they become the ruling party.  Article 14 of the Constitution authorizes the government to levy or alter taxes as well as raise loans and seek grants in public interest provided authorized by law. The Supreme Court in the case of Opposition v. RGoB (2011) stated that “the power of taxation is indispensably necessary to constitute an efficient government.” The Constitution and statutes including Public Finance Act provide adequate checks and balances to ensure that government uses financial resources only in the public interest. The Supreme Court said that “tax authority has been vested in Parliament to ensure adequate checks and balances, avoid arbitrariness, limit discretion, and ensure compliance with due process in a democratic system of governance.”

 Drugyel Zhipa said: “Election is the power of a citizen to select a party to form the Government, who can either do good or bad to the people and the country. Therefore, be careful in casting your vote.” This means the onus is on the voters to scrutinise and evaluate the political manifesto, not ECB. The political parties are also expected to have considered the nation’s financial resources while coming up with the promises. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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