Should MPs who resign prematurely be allowed to re-contest in future elections? 

Parliament: The recent incident of a Member of Parliament (MP) resigning has raised a new question on whether a serving member who resigns, without completing their term, should ever be allowed to re-contest in future elections. The laws, once again, are not clear and do not answer the question.

Going by the Election Act, an MP who resigns before completing the five-year term is eligible to re-contest in future elections. Chapter 10, section 176, of the Election Act states that a person of a minimum age of 25 and maximum of 65 with a university degree, shall be qualified to be elected as a Member of the National Assembly, if he/she holds a citizenship identity card and is a registered voter of the respective constituency.

While the laws do not prohibit a prematurely retired MP from re-contesting in future elections, it also does not pronounce that an individual with such records should be allowed. “The law is silent on this issue,” National Assembly house committee chairperson, Karma Tenzin said, adding that the law does not state that such a member cannot participate in future elections either.

National Assembly Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that a former MP can take part in elections but it is up to the political parties to decide whether to accept such an individual despite knowing that the person had resigned prematurely as MP. “It is up to the political party to whether deregister such a member or not,” the Speaker said, adding that if he were the party president such a member would be removed from the party immediately.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) party manager Phurba and Karma Tenzin said that such decision is best left to the voters to decide. “It depends on the voters,” Karma Tenzin said.

But under the existing laws, a contestant can appear and re-appear as long as their track record is clean.

Under the National Assembly Act, a member will be disqualified only if he/she is married to a person who is not a Bhutanese citizen, has been convicted for a criminal offence, terminated from a public service or is in arrears of taxes or other dues to the government, or holds an office of profit.

The member will also be disqualified if fails to declare election campaign expenses, for wilful violatiion of laws, for contravening the code of conduct and for bringing disrepute to the House by their conduct.

The Act does not disqualify a former MP who has resigned before his/her terms has ended.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that the former member should be allowed to participate in future elections even they have resigned prematurely. “So long as their track record is clean why not,” Jigme Zangpo said.

But DNT party manager, Phurba said that while re-contesting should be allowed, stronger laws should be put in place to deter serving members from leaving their office before the expiry of their term. “Re-contest must be allowed since there could be other reasons like the one occurring, or because of a member’s dissatisfaction with the government’s decision on certain issues,” Phurba said.

He added that if re-contesting is disallowed then such decisions could affect even competent people who have resigned because of internal problems.

One such method, Phurba suggested, is holding MPs accountable by signing an obligation before they take up the office. “If our students going on scholarships who aren’t even public servant at the time of signing the contract are bound by an obligation of five-10 years, MPs should also be bound by similar laws,” Phurba said.

An obligation to make such members refund the election campaign expenses is a way to prevent premature resignations, the party manager said.

DNT also criticised the incumbent parliamentarians for failing to put in place adequate rules to deter serving members from resigning before completing their term despite having seen another MP resign in 2013 soon after the elections.

“While Bhutanese people should accept the first case of 2013, Parliament however didn’t do enough to pass stringent rules on resignation,” Phurba said.

“The Bhutanese people must be informed that the parliamentarians have overlooked such an important issue, when they have amended the clause for their retirement benefits,” Phurba said.

By leaving such loopholes, the party managers also stated that the Parliament has provided undue opportunity for its members to take advantage.

Karma Tenzin said that stringent rules could not be passed when the National Assembly Act was tabled for amendment because the members were against such limitations. Parliament had earlier attempted to rectify the law by imposing refund of the election campaign expenses for resigning before the completion of their term.

“But things could not go forward in Parliament because if someone wanted to resign it has to be left to the individual,” Karma Tenzin said.

The chairperson however said that while making more stringent rules may not necessarily be a solution, the house committees of the National Council and Assembly would however discuss the issue later. “If things needs more attention then we would definitely work on it,” Karma Tenzin said.

Tempa Wangdi