Remaining apolitical in a democratic set-up

The article states that although, as a fledgling democracy, “our country has not yet achieved a stage of political awakening

SONAM PENJOR

Thimphu

The country has a law requiring all public employees to always abstain from muddling into politics and remain apolitical throughout.

According to a recent article ‘Apolitical Nature of the Civil Service’ by Pema Tshoki that was just published in the Druk Journal, the author opines that it becomes very challenging to stay apolitical when politics is so ingrained in daily life.

All citizens have the right to enjoy their fundamental rights, including the freedom of speech, under Bhutan’s Constitution (Article 7). On the other hand, all Bhutanese public employees are required to be nonpartisan and impartial under Article 26 of the Constitution and Section 3.3.1 of the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations.

According to the paper, the way these clauses are interpreted results in unanticipated and unwelcome inconsistencies for government employees and prevent Bhutan from having a strong and healthy democracy.

It claims that the civil service’s strict rules and non-political policy preclude its employees from participating in political conversations or attending political rallies and forums.

“Numerous representatives have anonymously lamented their inability to meet with candidates in person. Forums frequently end up being rude and slanderous without an educated audience,” it states.

Additionally, the article says that the public employees themselves are unable to provide clarification or pose questions about party manifestos. Civil officials are unable to make informed decisions since they are prohibited from participating in political gatherings and campaigns.

Another problem comes when political parties (ruling, opposing, and contesting) offer leadership positions to qualified officials or to high-ranking officials who have reached retirement age.

It is challenging to uphold the requirement that public employees be politically neutral. The article further says that it becomes particularly difficult when local elections are taking place. “Media outlets do not publicly promote the forums and campaigns of the gups, mangmis, and tshogpas.”

It says that when voting, public employees are unable to make informed decisions because they have not personally met the candidates and are not familiar with their platforms. They don’t make use of their freedom to pursue research or observe the requirement to be apolitical. This ultimately results in very low vote totals in local government elections or, worse yet, the wrong candidate being chosen.

In underdeveloped nations, the word “politics” has a bad reputation because people perceive it to be “dirty” and deceptive. Cynicism and scepticisms have corrupted the significance that has been assigned to it. In fact, large numbers of public employees are apolitical by default.

To rethink politics objectively, Bhutan and its people must first shed their pessimistic attitude toward it. Politics has unfathomable power on an individual level and is too significant to be disregarded from an organizational, societal, and national standpoint, added the article.

Additionally, it asserts that managing government operations and administration free from political ties and concerns is challenging. Since spiritual leaders shouldn’t engage in politics, the monk body is obligated to maintain its apolitical stance.

Public employees are allowed to vote, but they are not allowed to engage in any political activity. Since politicians and the civil service must eventually collaborate, it is impossible to separate the two. As a result, more flexible regulations and programs are required for the parties and government to operate together.

The paper also claims that having a political school of thought was inescapable and inevitable given that most national operations come to a standstill when one government’s term ends and a new one takes office.

The minister, a politician, leads the organization and sets the vision and directives for the ministry for a period of five years, therefore maintaining objectivity was one of the biggest obstacles. They introduce political agendas, which senior public workers then endorse, and which frequently result in unforeseen conflicts.

Being political does not include supporting or opposing the government or engaging in immoral behaviour. Politics does not entail undermining the principles and ethics of the Royal Civil Service Commission. The phrase ‘political’ is misunderstood widely in Bhutanese society, including among the civil service.

It states that it is vital for public officials to take a stand and communicate fact-based opinions as citizens, with the duty to constantly defend and promote national interests. Voting can resolve societal and civil problems if done correctly.

The article states that although, as a fledgling democracy, “our country has not yet achieved a stage of political awakening,” it is never too early to attempt.

Additionally, it claims that the system might have enhanced communication between political officials who serve as heads of government agencies and civil servants, especially senior cohorts.

Political neutrality and political rights should be equally balanced. Certain political actions such as taking part in elections as a candidate, donating money, seriously advocating for or against a party or candidate, and defamation, ought to be outlawed, added the paper.

Meanwhile, it asserts that a more inclusive and comprehensive definition of ‘apolitical’ must be developed.