Tashi Dema

The national language is not complex, but when it is not your mother tongue, it can be tricky. In the august hall of the Parliament, where sessions are broadcast live, standing up to speak could get on your nerves, no matter how prepared one is.

Judged by the eloquence, not substance, it could be unfair for many. Those who could speak fluent Dzongkha, the language of Parliament, could pass as a “good MP”. Language, if not a barrier, had been an issue in parliamentary debate.

While MPs from the west, whose mother tongue is Dzongkha, have no problem in expressing their views, it is those from the rest of the country who are  conscious of what they speak.

An elderly Thimphu resident, Rinzin, said he enjoys Parliament sessions, especially when MPs speak powerful Dzongkha. He said many MPs raise pertinent issues related to their constituents in the question-answer sessions. “Otherwise, it is mostly the same MPs voicing their stand in other discussions.”

Going by records Kuensel maintained in the last session, it was mostly Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi, Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji and Drametse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi who voiced their opinions and concerns repeatedly.

A senior bureaucrat said the Opposition Leader is known for his research and analysis, but could drag on points at times. “MP Passang Dorji makes well researched and informative submissions.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering is known for using proverbs to supplement his stand.  Observers have pointed out that although the usage of Bhutanese saying and proverbs resonated well with some, many cannot understand what the PM is saying. “Maybe he is good, but many, except those in west Bhutan, cannot relate to what he is saying.”

Economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma, is a favourite among those who follow the parliamentary discussions.  “His choice of words and expressions, even if it is dramatised, connects with the people,” said one. The minister with folded hands wishing the sins of amending the Tobacco Control Act befall on him was well respected by the public.

Those following the National Council debate said that  Punakha’s representative Lhaki Dolma, Dagana’s representative Surjaman Thapa, Haa’s representative Ugyen Namgyel and eminent member Phuntsho Rapten could articulate their thoughts well.

But there are also MPs, who do not participate in the deliberations much.

Observers have also pointed out that it is MPs with limited proficiency in the national language, who do not stand and speak much.

Rinzin explained that there were many chimis(representatives from gewogs), who were just mere silent spectators in the Assembly sessions before 2008. “The only difference is that with live sessions now, MPs have the pressure to stand and speak.”

He said that while one obvious reason for not participating in the deliberations could be language barrier, it could even be confidence and courage of the individual MP.

Going by feedback on the social media sites on the Parliament sessions, many people raised concerns of MPs using English words.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that in the NA, he ensures members speak in Dzongkha, but accept a few English words. “The main point is to communicate and articulate the point, which could be conveyed in English sometimes when MPs lack the choice of words.”

He said he would not stop members from using a few English words, but at the same time, he set a bar so that members should try to communicate in Dzongkha. “Looking from the cultural perspective and national importance, members should communicate in Dzongkha, but as people’s representatives, they have the responsibility to represent the people.”

He said that as a speaker, it is his wish that MPs have a fair chance to represent their constituency in the Assembly session. “You cannot have a session where an MP never spoke. I see my role more as a facilitator than a speaker and I ensure inclusiveness of all MPs.”

According to the Speaker, there are MPs who take the opportunity to talk too much, which could be understood as an imposition. “I am mindful of that too.”

He said that some MPs are apprehensive that when they get up, they would not be able to articulate properly. “They feel embarrassed.”