The proposal to amend the National Assembly (NA) Act of Bhutan this week, which would empower individual members of the National Assembly to initiate votes of no confidence against Lhengye Zhungtshog Members, raises serious constitutional concerns and threatens the stability of Bhutan’s democratic system. This amendment would not only fundamentally alter the delicate balance of powers enshrined in Bhutan’s Constitution, but also potentially lead to governmental instability and dysfunction.

Bhutan’s Constitution, like many modern democratic constitutions, is built on the principle of separation of powers. Article 1(3) of the constitution explicitly states, “there shall be a separation of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary and no encroachment on each other’s powers is permissible except to the extent provided for by this Constitution”. This clear delineation of powers is not merely a theoretical construct but a practical safeguard against the concentration of power and potential tyranny.

The proposed amendment to the NA Act would allow individual NA members to challenge the position of executive ministers directly. This represents a significant departure from the current constitutional framework, which vests executive power in the Lhengye Zhungtshog headed by the Prime Minister. According to Article 20 (2) of the Constitution, “the Executive Power shall be vested in the Lhengye Zhungtshog which shall consist of the Ministers headed by the Prime Minister’.

The Constitution provides a specific mechanism for checks on executive power through a vote of no confidence against the entire government, not individual ministers. Article 17 (6) and (7) outline this process, requiring a motion to be moved by at least one-third of the NA members and passed by a two-thirds majority to dismiss the government. This high threshold ensures that such a serious action is taken only with substantial legislative consensus.

It is crucial to emphasize that even this constitutionally provided mechanism for a vote of no confidence against the government should not be initiated by individual members of the National Assembly. Allowing individual members to initiate such a vote could lead to abuse of this power, where the opposition party or disgruntled members, including those from the ruling party, could potentially disrupt the functioning of the government and undermine democratic stability.

It is crucial to understand that Lhengye Zhungtshog Members, under the current constitutional framework, serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Article 17 (3), of the Constitution states “the Druk Gyalpo shall appoint Ministers from among the members of the National Assembly, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, or shall remove a Minister on the advice of the Prime Minister”. This provision clearly indicates that the authority to appoint and remove ministers lies with the Prime Minister, not the National Assembly.

The Lhengye Zhungtshog Act 2021 already provides adequate grounds for the removal of any minister from their portfolio by the Prime Minister. This act reinforces the constitutional principle of executive authority and provides a mechanism for addressing concerns about ministerial performance within the executive branch itself. This existing framework ensures accountability while maintaining the separation of powers and the stability of the government.

Bhutan’s young democracy has made significant strides in establishing a robust system of checks and balances. It is crucial that any proposed changes to this system are carefully considering constitutional principles and the need for governmental stability. The separation of powers and the stability of democratic governance must be protected against well-meaning but potentially harmful encroachments.


Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu


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