Should political parties not in power matter?

MB Subba

On September 7, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) issued a press release objecting the government’s nomination of one of its founding members, Tenzing Lekphel, as BIMSTEC’s Secretary General.

Urging the government to review the nomination, PDP questioned the nominee’s capability and experience while calling the nomination it as a political appointee.

The government has not made any statement. The foreign minister when approached by Kuensel, said that the government of the day had the authority to nominate and that member countries agreed to the nomination.

Political parties not in Parliament had been raising issues since the first democratically elected government in 2008. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) had been the most active and issued several press releases and even moved court to some of the PDP government’s decisions.

While political parties feel that their concerns should matter, the trend had been otherwise, if not shutting up each other.   Last month, the PDP accused the government of breaching the tobacco control Act by temporarily lifting the ban on sale of tobacco.

It alleged the government of violating the provisions of the Constitution. The Attorney General stated the government’s stand was right.

Should views of parties not in power matter? Yes, says many.

“Registered parties still represent a sizeable number of people. They might have lost the election, but they have supporters who believe in their ideology,” says a researcher. “They should stay relevant.”

Calling himself a political observer, a former Member of Parliament said that political parties presenting different views to the government and the opposition party is good.

“What we need in a democracy is discourse. There could be issues that the government or the opposition party might oversee,” he said.

Last year, during the pay revision discussions, the PDP thanked the government for considering its feedback on the salary revision.  The feedback was on increasing teacher’s allowance, minimum daily wage and revision for local leaders.

At a press conference on May 22, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, while speaking on incorporating feedback from the DNT office and others had said that he also met with former Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay to discuss the suggestions from the party and personally thanked him.

However, it was the PDP’s latest press release that generated a debate on the social media. As the PDP’s press release went viral, some anonymous social media users shared a video clip of the DNT candidate from Bumthang’s Chokor Tang constituency in which he accuses the PDP government of appointing a party supporter as the managing director of BBS.

The candidate, Dawa, had made the statement during the 2018 election period.

The former government had questioned the legitimacy and moral right of DNT to issue press releases. The DNT also got ridiculed by the then prime minister, Dasho Tshering Tobgay when responding to DNT’s press release on the fiscal incentives in June 2017, saying that the party was issuing press releases “every now and then” even when it did not have presence in Parliament to suit its political interest.

The DNT had called for resignation of the prime minister and the finance minister on moral grounds for granting the fiscal incentives without passing through Parliament. But the former prime minister said that press releases were a desperate means of DNT to engage with the government and be heard.

The DNT sued the government on the constitutionality of the fiscal issues. The case was dismissed due to lack locus standi.

The PDP is having a taste of its own medicine, according to journalist and writer, Gopilal Acharya, referring to the remarks the former Lyonchhen made on the DNT press releases.  The former editor said democracy could only be deepened if people actively participate in politics through the parties of their choice.

“There is a constitutional limit which disallows representation of registered parties in the Parliament, but this should not limit their importance,” he said.

Gopilal in an article soon after the former Lyonchhen’s remark on DNT press releases had written that parties with no role in governance should continue to provide platforms for political engagement to their supporters.

“They could help communities remain connected to politics after the polls. To their supporters these parties will represent political inclusion in reaching out to policy makers, and the very existence of the party that one supports is itself an incentive to engage in politics.”

On the issue of political appointees, a former National Council (NC) member said that it was difficult for him to comment on the government’s decision as the precedent was set by previous governments. “From one angle, the decision looks legitimate,” he said.

The former PDP candidate from the Radhi Sakteng constituency, Trashigang, Kinlay Dorji, was selected as the secretary general of Colombo Plan. He had worked as executive director of the Youth Development Fund and director in the labour ministry.

There is a small difference. The Colombo Plan had selected Kinlay Dorji among many applicants from member countries. The BIMSTEC secretary general, however, need not go through competition with candidates from other countries as it is appointed on a rotational basis.

Some argue that the PDP suggesting nominations from the civil service or former diplomats was also a political move. “Can we not say that PDP is trying to keep the civil servant votes in mind,” said one.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji has said that Tenzin Lekphel’s nomination has been accepted by BIMSTEC countries. Formal appointment by foreign ministers of the member countries remains to be completed, which is expected to take place soon as the tenure of the incumbent secretary general expires on September 20.

Tenzin Lekphel did not comment on the PDP’s statement.

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