The rule of law

Call it their unfaltering faith, ignorance or sheer naivety, a group of people seeking leniency on behalf of those convicted in the Gyelpozhing land allotment case is a manifestation of how we fail to understand the rule of law. In fact, this reflects our perception, attitude, and understanding of how the law operates in the country.

This is not the first time though that a particular interest group has pulled off such a show. After a bruising lost in 2008 elections, a multitude of People Democratic Party (PDP) supporters even petitioned the King to give up democracy and restore monarchy. Of course, we must give them the benefit of doubt that this move was triggered by their genuine concern for the greater good of the country. Or perhaps, the shock of the loss.

However, as far as the right to do so is concerned, every individual can afford to exhaust all possible means to seek justice for themselves and for others. No questioning about that fundamental right. The problem arises when we tend to overlook the significance of the rule of law, and make concerted efforts to sidestep it.Rule-Of-Law

In the Gyelpozhing case, after a month-long trial, the Mongar court gave its verdict. As is the course of law, the accused had 10 days to appeal to the High Court, which a few of them have already done.

That’s the rule of law. Courts pass judgments and those not happy with it can always appeal to an appellate court. This is how it works. This is how the legal procedures are crafted and put to practice.

Now add to this picture a group of people trying to petition the Supreme Court to undo the decision made by the lower court. Firstly, it is interesting to know their motivation for doing so. Secondly, it only goes to show that they do not understand the nuances of law. Thirdly, interested parties or groups lobbying for the accused must realize this isn’t at all the legitimate way to go about things. Such bargaining is unnecessary and totally unreasonable.

Such an endeavor of certain section of our society at times only enlarges our inability to accept the hard realities of life. We fail to understand that the essence of democracy is the rule of law. We can’t bypass it or seek an easier way out.

A lesson we can take home from these experiences is that there is pressing need to educate our citizens on the importance of the rule of law, democratic rights and freedoms and certain limitations that we must be willing to compromise with. In the end, if we want democracy to flourish, we must at all times value and respect the rule of law.

Schools and institutes – No trespassing

The recent admonition from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) advising political parties to keep away from school and institutes to meet students has left many wondering the rationale behind the move and whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks as are purported to be. youth

While the Commission has maintained that a large number of parties and candidates could lead to ‘undue politicization’ in schools, some argue that it’s just unnecessary apprehension. Few can’t help asking why it was a concern for the education ministry when political parties visiting schools and institutions help in educating the students on politics and democracy. Students stand to benefit more interacting directly with the parties.

However, this has indubitably raised question of our misconception about politics. We still view politics as it’s happening in some neighboring countries as dirty, corrupt and debauched, and thus draw a parallel perception. We fear that politicking in schools would be counterproductive and that it would plant poison in young minds.

The reasons behind barring political parties into school are understandable, but what about those students who are in colleges and tertiary institutes and are above 18 years and eligible to vote? The fact that the majority of our voters comprise the youth would mean depriving them of the electoral education that allows them to make informed choices.

Around the world, many premier institutes are political in nature. Political parties visit colleges and universities and some even host prominent politicians for talks and discussion. Rather than politicizing, such programs make eligible voters more abreast and prepare them to make their own decisions.

To put it simply, eligible voters in schools and institutes have the right to have access to the right information about parties. This will only help them make informed decisions. What use would it really be even if eligible young voters go and vote if they don’t have a sound electoral education? Though the Commission might have covered schools under its voters’ education and information program, what about awareness of the electoral education on parties, candidates, and what it stands for. Political parties are still engrossed in the task of making itself and its candidates known to the electorates. So our young voters must know about political parties well enough if we want them to vote.

Maybe we also need to comprehend on what makes an informed voter. Anyone above 18 years of age is an eligible voter, but an informed voter is the one who is abreast of not only the political process but also about all political parties, its candidates and what they stand for. For our young democracy, it’s not enough to focus only on eligible voters. But it’s our duty to keep them informed as well.

 

 

Numbers just don’t matter

The grueling hunt for party candidates has definitely become like finding a needle in a haystack for some of the new political parties contesting in the upcoming elections. Even after months of their coming out in the open and registration as political parties, some are still in a desperate exploration looking out for candidates that will represent the party.

Besides the incumbent party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, which seems to be on a better footing comparatively, most of the new parties are still yet to divulge to the public all names of party candidates for the 2013 elections.haystack

As of now, People’s Democratic Party has officially revealed about 25 candidates, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party recently introduced another six new candidates on March 7, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa has officially introduced about 33 candidates, while Druk Chirwang Tshogpa has publicly disclosed five candidates.

The last-minute rush in finding suitable candidates is perhaps the faults of their own doing. Parties were earlier relaxed, composed that a tentative list of 47 candidates would suffice, but the recent elucidation from the Election Commission of Bhutan that all parties should have the required numbers of candidates to be eligible for elections have literally put them on their toes.

This predicament, some observers say, would be the political nemesis of some of the new parties; basically presenting the probable chances of a party not making or getting disqualified even prior to the primary round election because of not having the required 47 candidates. If such is the scenario, some parties don’t look like it’s even going to make it past the first hurdle.

The task of finding candidates, obviously good ones, is aggravated by the dearth of qualified candidates as majority of them are in the civil service. The bureaucratic rigmarole, starting up from having to put up one’s resignation to entering politics, and the not-so-benign attitude towards politics have played their share too in dissuading some, who are at life’s crossroad, mulling over whether to resign or enter politics.

But with five political parties as of now, we are talking a minimal of about 235 candidates that not only possesses a university degree but are capable as well. Getting the numbers alone, nonetheless, wouldn’t be good. What we need is good, capable candidates in the Parliament, mainly because they will be the ones responsible for whatever policies and laws that are churned out from there. They will be the ones responsible for discussion on issues of significance that will have pivotal impacts on commoners; thus also ensuring the successful fruition of democracy in the country.

Thus, new political parties must know that it’s just not about attaining the numbers. And similarly, the political candidates must know as well.

 

Not All is Well

The incumbent government, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), has definitely raised the bar for ensuing government in the future. It’s perhaps even incredible right now to think that any other government can achieve or deliver what DPT has done so during its five year term.

The figure speaks for itself. The party which committed itself to promoting ‘Growth and Equality’ recorded a whopping 98% achievement, by fully or partially having had fulfilled 150 pledges out of the 153 broad pledges stipulated in its manifesto.

This leaves them with only three unfulfilled pledges. However, delivering the remaining ones doesn’t appear grueling either as the government still has some time left before the completion of its term.Last National Assembly 2013

Additionally, the government’s major stride has been in meliorating rural lives by lowering poverty in some of the rural pockets of the country.

The rural poverty rate, according to the Fifth Annual Report of the Prime Minister, has been brought down to 16% in 2012 from more than 30% in 2007. With a year and a half still remaining for the Tenth Plan to wind up, Lyonchhen apprised that the country’s poverty rate had plummeted to 12% as against its target of 15%.

However, some new aspiring political parties and some sections of the people are unwillingly to buy the figures as in the report. While the report purports to exhibit success and a rosy state of the country, not everything is as rosy as it is portrayed.

Although numerous basic amenities such as motorable roads, electricity, drinking water, education, health services and mobile connectivity have been taken to the gewogs, it’s arduous to comprehend the translation of how taking some basic services to the villages result to the humungous drop in poverty rate.

This is also because rural urban migration has been continuing unabatedly. Therefore, it is also becoming worth wondering whether rural poverty rate on the wane is, as some say, because there are less people living back in the rural villages now. People are giving up farming, leaving their ancestral home and flocking in droves to urban towns.

Further, the average GDP growth rate of 9% in the current plan looks less realistic going by the developments in the economy. The Bhutanese economy continues to grapple with severe credit crunch, balance of payment issue and Indian Rupee problem.

Even after almost a year now, the economy shows little or no sign of recovery. Economic activities have been significantly slowed down. Imports have been banned, banks have stopped disbursing loans, laying off of employees in the private sector has become common and youth unemployment is becoming  a serious setback. The aforementioned issues are just few of the problems we are today grappling with and that needs to be addressed. And everyone knows that not all is well, at least for now.

 

Free speech without responsibility

The political scene is heating up. Although not much is happening on the physical front, it appears, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have virtually become a political hotbed as the dates for the second parliamentary elections draw closer.

This is a trend which was almost nonexistent in the warm up to the 2008 elections. Parties of all stripes have taken to the social media. They are leaving no stone unturned in garnering fan followings and posting regular updates about their party. The posts, however, keep reverting to the subject of parties, its beliefs and what makes one different from the others.

politics3However, call it the dark side of politics, negative campaigning has started in earnest. A case in point is the recent incident where an anonymous Facebook user started a fake page on the Opposition Leader, insinuating that Bhutanomics.com, that claims to be a satirical website, was started by People Democratic Party (PDP). Earlier, someone impersonated the Prime Minister in Twitter.

The PDP president has vehemently denied anything to do with Bhutanomics. The Opposition Leader wrote in his blog, “That impostor has used my name with my photograph to deceive my Facebook followers that Bhutanomics is run by PDP and The Bhutanese.”

It has become quite palpable that such an attempt, using the cover of anonymity, was perhaps targeted to malign the PDP. In the same vein, the Bhutanomics has been publishing controversial articles on Lyonchhen and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) government.

In fact, it has been overtly hitting individuals, institutions and the government with a plethora of attacks and criticism that borders on outright defamation. In one of its recent articles, it outlines 16 reasons why DPT shouldn’t be voted in the upcoming elections.

The Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression but at times it appears that our understanding of this right is thoroughly skewed. We tend to forget the responsibilities that come with such freedoms. Can we just wear a mask and unload our wrath and resentment against individuals and institutions? What does that speak of us as a democratic society? Is it healthy for a young democracy like ours?

In addition, the question that begs an answer is, who is keeping an eye on such developments in the vast social media space? The Election Commission of Bhutan has drawn a social media policy but what after that! What about media regulator BICMA?

It’s precarious when social media is being used as a forum where people vicariously become the judge, jury and prosecutor and start convicting one another. Sadly, this is what is happening now. And it is just the beginning.  In the months to follow, it is likely that politics will get dirtier.