l Usha Drukpa, Thimphu
The bleak performance of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), in the primary round of the parliamentary elections in 2013 has hit the party. As per the election act of the Kingdom of Bhutan, political parties that fail to secure 10 percent of the total votes in the primary round will not be eligible to get state funding for the elections. DCT managed to secure six per cent of the total votes cast, thus making them ineligible for the fund.
Political parties are currently registered under the provisions of Public Election Fund Act of Bhutan 2008, where each party is eligible for Nu 6.11m from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and a further campaign fund if parties get through the primary round.
The ECB’s actions has also generated debates on the particular provision of the Act, with some saying that it is similar to not letting someone sit for examinations, after one fails.
However, proponents of the Election Act say that the Act has taken into consideration the future consequences of having too many political parties without credibility. Those arguing for the Act say a provision of this kind would derail mushrooming of political parties, “for the sake of politics.” The Act ensures that only credible, legitimate, strong political parties with aspiration and intentions are able to participate.
Another argument for the Act concerns reducing political parties. “Political funding criterion is also good but again if you have too many political parties and if the state has to give fund to each party then the state cannot afford. It might happen or it may not happen, without such a rule in place, there is possibility there might be so many parties,” a former editor said.
Others call the criterion a filter as the Act keeps parties without credibility and without large public support away. This is good because as it avoids voter confusion. Having too many political parties will confuse voters.
Another rationale is the fact that state funding to aspiring political parties is given at first because people aspiring to join politics can contest. As they are given opportunity, the burden and responsibility to ensure that they can get at least 10 percent of the public vote should be achieved. It also creates an avenue for the political parties to participate.
Concerning the Act, a former National Council member said that he does not see any bad implication in the Act. “Every aspiring political party has got the opportunities to participate, despite lack of funds. DCT has some good candidates and because the party has no funds, they can still join other parties. Knowing the fact that political parties in Bhutan are scrambling for political candidates, getting candidates apparently is the biggest problem they are facing. So if DCT is not able to fund itself and its candidates are left out nowhere then these candidates can join other parties,” he said.
Meanwhile, DCT President Lily Wangchuk earlier told the media that this will definitely affect them as they will not have the same level playing field compared to other parties. She also said it will be a huge drawback for her party but they do not have a choice.
“We will only need to come with strategies to deal with the drawback and work on at least winning more than 10% in 2018 election because if we get through the 2018 election with more than 10%, I think the next election should not be a huge problem,” she had said.