Election: The resignation of a gup last December has once again generated much discourse on whether elected leaders or representatives can be allowed to leave so easily in absence of clear legislation.
The gup of Dangchu gewog resigned to leave for Australia about two months after he was elected.
Last year in August, a Member of Parliament (MP) resigned after he was denied leave to study abroad. Similarly, in 2013, the former Prime Minister, who was one of 15 members elected to form the Opposition, sought resignation on grounds that he would like to make way for someone younger to step in.
While it’s clear that the resignations were sought taking advantage of loopholes in the law, it also becomes an issue of morality.
Principle vs. cost
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that whether one is contesting an election as an individual or a political party, when people have given their support and mandate to serve them for five years, it is the elected member’s responsibility to fulfil that part of the bargain.
“Those resigning are defaulting on the sacred trust that people have bestowed upon them,” Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said.
Lyonchoen also spoke about how the ruling party thought about resigning before completion of their tenure in 2013. “The only reason it appears they didn’t was because not having completed their full tenure, they would not be entitled post service benefits,” Lyonchoen said.
The election expense for the Dangchu gup stood at Nu 250,000 while it was Nu 2.75 million (M) for North Thimphu. Similarly, for Nanong-Shumar constituency, the cost was Nu 25.4M.
Lyonchoen said besides cost, such premature resignations of members made it inconvenient for people. “I believe in principles. People who are in politics for the wrong reasons should be pointed out,” Lyonchoen said. “As you are there only to win and to be in the ruling party or until there is no better option.”
Department of Local Government’s director general Lungten Dorji said neither does the law disallow an elected leader from resigning nor is there a time frame applicable to seek resignation. “More than the expenses, its wastage of people’s time and energy besides breaking people’s trust and confidence,” he said.
Lungten Dorji also said that considering the importance of local government, it reflects poorly on the person besides the election expenses. “Elected members also take oath of office,” he said, adding that in case of the Dangchu gup who went for better employment opportunities abroad, it was questionable.
National Council’s Gasa representative Sangay Khandu is of the opinion that running a public office is not a short-term commitment. Therefore, resignation is expected to be for reasons larger than personal ones.
Sangay Khandu said that the idea of democracy requires that just as one can join one should be able to leave because there may be valid reasons for it. “Preventing someone from resigning against his or her will would be wrong,” he said.
He also said that the existing laws have safeguard provisions to consider and assess the genuineness of reasons for proposed resignations to presiding officers of elected offices just like in civil service. “The presiding officers hold the moral and the weightiest responsibility in ensuring people’s trust and faith in the system,” he said.
What the law says
The National Assembly (NA), National Council, local government or election Acts do not say that elected members cannot resign.
The NA Act, for instance, just says a member can resign by writing to the Speaker if the House is in session, and to the secretary general, if the house is not in session. Similarly, local leaders and council members have to submit their resignation letters to their Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) chairman and Council chairperson respectively.
However, the Act states that the seat of the member shall be considered “vacant” only if the resignation was accepted by the presiding officers of the respective institutions. The Speaker in case of the National Assembly, chairperson in case of the National Council and chairman of DT.
The seat, according to the Act, is also considered vacant in time of death, disqualification or removal or expiration of term of office. It says if a member remains absent for more than one-fourth of the number of days in a session without permission of the House, his or her seat shall be declared vacant. Following that, the election commission will issue a notification calling for election in the constituency concerned. But unless the remainder of the term of the member from the date of occurrence of the vacancy is less than 180 days, a by-election should be held within a period of 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.
What merits attention in absence of clear legislations is if elected members can resign without valid reasons and whether they should they be allowed to re-contest future elections or be made to refund expenses. For instance, if government or corporate employees are to resign, there are certain rules and formalities to fulfill. Refunding a certain amount of money, if the employee chose to resign before completion of a bond is one example. However, such rules do not exist for elected members.
Therefore, the argument is whether an elected member, once sworn into Parliament, should not be allowed to leave easily. Since then it has been frequently emphasised that a practice should be initiated to dissuade such members from seeking resignation.
After the resignation of the former Prime Minister, the Assembly put up the NA Act on concerns surrounding elected members resigning from office before completion of their term and refund of election expenses for amendment. A sum of Nu 100,000 was proposed should a member resign prematurely. However, the Council rejected the clause stating that members should bear the total election expenses and not just Nu 100,000.
After the issue was tabled in the joint sitting, it was left as it is, as the two Houses couldn’t come to a consensus.
While it would be wrong to hold back members who wished to resign, some feel that the only way out is to have it penned down as legislation. It is also not clear if a serving member who resigns, without completing their term, should ever be allowed to re-contest in future elections.
However, Lyonchoen said he doesn’t see any reason why laws need to be amended in this regard. “In principle, it is something that should not be tolerated by the people,” Lyonchoen said. “You can’t leave everything up to the judicial process but people must make it absolutely clear.”
Lyonchoen said that people made it clear in North Thimphu’s case that this sort of “nonsense” and “betrayal” of people’s trust cannot be tolerated.
However, the DLG director general Lungten Dorji said that the way forward is to have specific regulations in black and white. For instance, having to refund election expenses borne by the government and for elected members to have strong reasons to resign.
While the precedence has been set, Lungten Dorji said that not allowing elected leaders to resign is also not right.