The recent triumph of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the election of Bhutan Tendrel Tshogpa as the Opposition Party mark another milestone in our democracy. As Bhutan embarks on its second term under the leadership of the PDP, and with an opposition poised for checks and balances, it is important that governance be firmly rooted in the principles of the rule of law.

Democracy’s essence lies in the foundation of the rule of law, a principle articulated by Lord Acton’s timeless assertion that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Montesquieu’s statement on the rule of law, wherein he declared that “the use of political power is subject to the formal constraint of standing rules that are codified laws of the land,” further emphasises that the ruling party must operate within the parameters of our constitution to uphold the foundations of our democracy. However, experiences show that the political parties globally, including ours, often find themselves in positions where they challenge the rule of law, justifying their actions through their authority and legislative power.

Bhutan has witnessed all three different political parties in the last three governments, each grappling with instances of political abuse of the rule of law. For instance, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) enacted laws such as the Education City Act based on political promises, utilising legislation to legitimise their agenda. Similarly, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) faced allegations of selective leniency when a minister was charged with corruption but not suspended, while other public servants faced immediate suspension under similar circumstances during the trial. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) administration, in turn, attempted to repeal Parliamentary Acts through executive notifications, undermining established legislative processes. Thus, all three past governments tried to shield their members charged with criminal offences and engaged in some form of legislative abuse.

Furthermore, there has been a clear erosion of freedom of speech and expression under successive governments. By the third government, the vitality of freedom of speech has diminished, even impacting individual opinion writers and stifling diverse perspectives. It is crucial to acknowledge that freedom of speech and expression are pivotal to the rule of law; they provide proper checks and balances, ensuring accountability and fostering public confidence.

As Bhutan advances with transformations like the Gelephu Mindfulness City (GeSAR), His Majesty’s personal vision emphasises the pivotal role of the rule of law in promoting transparency and integrity. Both the ruling PDP and the Opposition Party must collaboratively work to set a precedent for establishing a robust foundation of the rule of law. This transcends party interests, safeguarding national interests and committing to governance based on the rule of law.

In the pursuit of building a legacy that endures for centuries, as articulated by His Majesty during the 116th National Day, the government must not compromise the rule of law in the name of popular will. Upholding justice is paramount, as the will of the people cannot legitimise actions that are inherently unjust. Consequently, the PDP must prioritise reforms to revive freedom of speech and expression—the key to the rule of law and true democratic values.

Bhutan stands at a critical juncture where adherence to the rule of law is indispensable for responsible governance. The nation’s leaders must fortify the rule of law, setting a precedent that will endure for generations to come, as envisioned by our visionary monarchs.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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