The throne spoke on Wednesday.
The Royal Kasho to the Election Commission of Bhutan on local government goes much beyond addressing the issue for which His Majesty was approached. Most importantly, His Majesty has outlined his vision and the responsibility of the throne in our new democratic set up.
It comes out clearly through the Kasho when it says: “As King, it is my duty at all times, to examine not just the issue at hand, but to also contemplate the long term effect of any decision on the unity, harmony and security of our nation; on the dignity, integrity and strength of the Constitution; on the strength of law and the growth of a successful democracy in Bhutan.” Even in the past, His Majesty has asserted on the overarching role of the throne. In his concluding address of the third parliament session on July 30, 2009, His Majesty said “from where I stand, I do not see different players such as the National Assembly, National Council, Cabinet or Bureaucracy.” The magnanimity of the role should not only be understood but, more importantly, be respected.
How can it be done?
The answer is in the Kasho and in what His Majesty always says; that the only way to strengthen democracy is to have strong democratic institutions in place. While all these institutions should also be independent, it is also necessary, in the spirit of democracy to have sufficient room for healthy consultation. It is not difficult in Bhutan, given our small size and the Kasho reiterates that. “We must take advantage of our strength as a small close-knit society,” it says.
The Kasho also talks of resolving “all issues” in the spirit of brotherhood. This is significant, especially at a time when there is a feeling that any contentious issue can be passed on to the throne. His Majesty said that he has always encouraged institutions to resolve issues on their own, through consultation.
The Kasho cannot be interpreted in isolation. Talking to those who appealed, His Majesty also asserted his vision making several crucial statements.
Respecting the Supreme Court’s role as the final authority to interpret the Constitution, His Majesty said he shall perform the “sacred constitutional duty of the King to protect and uphold the constitution in the best interest and for the welfare of the people of Bhutan.” In doing so, His Majesty again reminded the nation about the existence of a systematic process in case a law needed interpretation. A short cut could just derail the system.
His Majesty has also emphasized on the need to define Bhutan’s democracy broadly through two important institutions – a political establishment at the center and an apolitical one at the local level. Both institutions should command the faith, confidence and pride of the people.
Another important lesson from the Kasho is that though His Majesty has repeatedly highlighted the spirit of the Constitution, he has not done it in isolation. His Majesty has kept the people at the heart of every message and the “will of the people” and the “best interest and welfare of the people” always accompanies the constitutional provision. Regarding the issue that led to the appeal and consequently the Kasho, His Majesty has respected both the Election Commission and the individual rights of the appellants to stand for the local elections.
His Majesty told the appellants that the issue reflected the failure on the part of the two political parties to abide by the laws on procedures for de-registration and said “Thus, the appeal would merit full consideration from the relevant agencies, if the individuals had themselves acted in accordance with the laws.” The message is clear – the appellants’ right to stand for the election shouldn’t be taken away for them.
Therefore, it is only a matter of time that the Election Commission will accommodate the disqualified aspirants to stand for the election. Moreover, the Commission has relaxed the one-year mitsi (registered census) rule in the past to encourage more participation and this it will not be difficult to relax the rules again. Thus, it may be too early to say that the local elections will be delayed again.
The Prime Minister, on behalf of the National Council, National Assembly and two political parties, has brought before me the issue of the candidates disqualified from participating in Local Government elections.
The 90 disqualified candidates have also jointly submitted an appeal on the same issue.
The members of the National Council have submitted their concerns on the relaxation of the one-year mitsi requirement for candidates in Local Government elections.
As King, it is my duty at all times, to examine not just the issue at hand, but to also contemplate the long term effect of any decision on the unity, harmony and security of our nation; on the dignity, integrity and strength of the Constitution; on the strength of law and the growth of a successful democracy in Bhutan.
In the interest of unity and harmony, I have always encouraged close consultation and cooperation between different branches and agencies of government; between institutions and the public; and among our people themselves. Bhutan is a small country so we must always seek ways to sit together, face to face in the spirit of brotherhood and with unity of purpose, to resolve all issues. We must take advantage of our strength as a small close-knit society. The submissions made by the Prime Minister on behalf of so many important institutions, reflects this approach of cooperation and consultation. I am very proud and happy to say that this is good democracy at work.
With regard to the Local Government elections, our primary concern should be that the Election Commission of Bhutan is able to replicate, and build upon, the tremendous success of the General Elections of 2008. However, the submissions made by the Prime Minister, the appeal by the disqualified candidates and the National Council’s stand, all indicate that the circumstances are less than conducive for successful Local Government elections. To conduct our first Local Government elections as a young democracy under such circumstances would hinder the growth of a strong vibrant democracy, and undermine the achievements we have made in our democratic transition. It would also tarnish the reputation that the Election Commission has rightly earned as a strong, just and independent institution. Therefore, while the Election Commission has always worked in the interest of the nation, and is striving today to conduct Local Government elections that have already been greatly delayed, it is advisable that they first resolve all issues before proceeding with the ongoing Local Government elections. The desired outcome of our first Local Government elections as a democracy should be that our people in the 205 gewogs of our 20 dzongkhags have faith, confidence and pride in the representatives they have elected to office. This outcome can only be achieved if we are all faithful to the Constitution, the laws of our land and the will of our People.
I hereby issue this Kasho on the 4th of May 2011 in carrying out my sacred Constitutional duty to “protect and uphold this Constitution in the best interest and for the welfare of the People of Bhutan.”
King of Bhutan