This week, according to the revised rules on election conduct, candidates or political parties shall not make unrealistic pledges or manifestos. And to ensure this, an Independent Evaluation Committee will be formed for the first time. According to the Election Commission of Bhutan, the committee shall comprise of members from various relevant agencies and will advise and assist the Commission in evaluating the manifestos and campaign pledges of political parties and candidates.

The question is: Why is it not a crime to break manifesto promises?

This seems a simple way of making election manifestos genuinely meaningful documents and also protecting the democratic process. Some allowances could be made for changing situations once power has been achieved, but I don’t see a general downside in holding party leaders.

The simple answer is that it’s not a crime because Parliament hasn’t passed a law making manifestos legally enforceable. But there would be a couple of problems with what you’re proposing.

Firstly, if you were to have a period of coalition rule, then that involves compromises—you may find yourself on a course of action that you had not anticipated or that runs contrary to your manifesto pledge. So, the Tories, for example, could be said to have broken theirs by not withdrawing the UK from the ECHR, but that’s because of the practicality of being in a coalition.

Secondly, who would be culpable if the manifesto pledges aren’t met by the prime minister? What if Parliament did not vote for the measures in the manifesto despite he or she trying to introduce a relevant Bill. Would the MPs for the PM’s party that obstructed the bill be culpable? What if the PM does not have a majority in the Parliament and is unable to pass a bill that would achieve precisely what was set out in a manifesto promise?  Would the PM be culpable then?

An election manifesto is a statement of a political party explaining what it would do if it were to be voted to power. It lays out for the electorate the party’s policies for them to see and thereon decide which competing parties can offer a better option.

Democracy, as commonly understood, is the political community and is assumed to be virtuous, good, and likely to be seen in governance irrespective of the name it bears. Political sovereignty resides in the representation of the citizens as a whole representing the adult population.

In a democracy, the centre of gravity of sovereignty lies in the people. With the progressive development of democracy, people come to know about the policies pursued by a political party.

No democracy can afford to ignore this fact. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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