Uncertainty over tenure of local leaders

According to ECB, incumbent leaders should resign to re-contest once the notification calling elections is out 

LG: With just over a month left for the second local government (LG) elections, incumbent local leaders of Paro vying for a second term in the local government are anxious over when they should resign.

The uncertainty prevails as most gups complete their term only by July-end while the elections are scheduled for July. Except for the Tsento, Lamgong and Shaba gups, most are expected to re-contest for a second term. Similarly, most incumbent mangmis and tshogpas are likely to re-contest.

The confusion

Inconsistencies in the Constitution, LG and election Acts has lead to confusion among the local leaders across the country.

Article 22, section 21, of the Constitution prescribes that a local government will continue for five years unless dissolved prematurely. The election Act, however, states that a LG should be reconstituted on the date of expiry.

In such a case, should a dispute arise given such inconsistencies, the provisions of the Constitution will prevail. Any provision of a law that is inconsistent with the Constitution is null and void.

Should the local leaders resign before they complete their terms, they should forego their entitlements. The LG entitlement Act states that a member retiring on completion of his or her term of office shall be entitled to gratuity. However, no gratuity shall be payable if a member retires before the completion of his or her term or if his or her service is terminated.

Paro’s Dogar gup Lhab Tshering, 49, said he decided to re-contest given the pressure from people in his gewog especially his chiwog.

However, to re-contest he is not sure when he should resign. “We are wondering whether we should resign before completing our term or wait for information from the election commission,” he said.

Similarly, Hoongrel gup Sangay, 50, is equally confused like other local leaders should he decide to re-contest. He said there has been immense pressure especially from elderly people from the gewog who wants him to serve a second term.

“Some sort of early notification would help for those who want to re-contest as it would lead to last minute rush in getting things done,” he said. “This would also lead to issues for those providing services.”

Precedence set?

The former thrompons and tshogpas of Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu resigning a month before the completion of their terms marred the first phase of the LG election. Some lawmakers even called it unconstitutional.

The same scenario would unfurl during the upcoming LG elections, as it would mean the gups resigning more than a month before completing their terms.

On when the incumbent local leaders should resign, Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) officials said they should resign once the commission issues the notification calling election if they wish to re-contest.

“The timing of issuing announcement and notification calling an election is spelt out in the electoral laws,” the ECB’s media unit responded in an email interview. “Further, as per LG Act 2014 the elected local government leaders are supposed convene their respective first sitting within 30 days after the declaration of election results.”

Should local leaders resign before completion of their terms, local government department’s officiating director Wangdi Gyeltshen said they would not receive their benefits as stated in the LG entitlement Act.

“They will have to complete their term in line with the LG Act,” he said.

Wangdi Gyeltshen said that a member is eligible to re-contest upon the dissolution of dzongkhag tshodu and gewog tshogde and they need not submit their resignation as their terms also completes with it.

However, if they resign to re-contest, Wangdi Gyeltshen said the procedures are clearly indicated in the LG Act and rules and regulations on where and how to submit their resignations.

Lamgong gup and Paro DT chairman Phub Tshering said with such confusion, the entitlement benefit issue would turn out like it did for the National Council members during the last election. “Instead of attracting more candidates, such confusion would only lead to loss of interest among potential candidates,” he said.

The first sitting of the local government, gup Phub Tshering said, was different for the 10 gewogs. “The first sitting starts with the gewog tshodge after which the dzongkhag tshogdu is convened,” he said. “The first sitting of the gewog tshogde was held in August 2011 but on different dates. So how does it work in this scenario?”

However, ECB states that as the poll for LG elective posts was held in June 2011, the local leaders should be completing their tenure at least in same month if not on the same date as per section 20 of the LG Act 2014.

“The elected members of the respective local governments drew their salaries immediately after the declaration of election Results irrespective of convening the first sittings on different dates,” according to the media unit.

The ECB in its May 16 notification states that notification calling elections to the LG elections in 205 gewogs of the twenty dzongkhags, 16 dzongkhag thromdes, 18 dzongkhag yenlag thromdes will be issued on June 7.

The notification states that election will not be called in Pemagatshel dzongkhag thromde, Dungsum yenlag thromde, Trashiyangtse, Damji in Gasa, Chagzam, Pam chiwog, Trashigang and Lhamoizingkha chiwog, Dagana where there are no registered voters currently.

“All those wishing to contest the above elections are reminded to prepare the necessary documents that shall be required once the elections are called and the nomination process starts,” it states.

Meanwhile, in Paro contestants vying for various posts are likely to increase drastically this election. The Paro dzongkhag tshogdu will discuss the issue of confusion over tenure today.

Kinga Dema | Paro

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