A change in the MPs rules of engagement?

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is mulling to raise the bar for National Council and National Assembly candidates aspiring to vie for the parliamentary elections. This, the commission believes, will ensure that candidates who are elected as members of parliament have a minimum portfolio to be able to discharge their duties at their fullest potential.

If what the ECB has proposed sees the light of the day, candidates who are vying for the National Council elections will need to have a minimum requirement of 10 years work experience in any related fields, while those aspiring to contest for the National Assembly elections, albeit through a registered party, should have a minimum five years working experience.       

The present rules require both NA and NC candidates to be at least 25 years of age and have a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree while there is no criteria set for the minimum work experience requirement. Further candidates will also need to convince the commission that they are people of integrity, excellent character, and reputation.

The draft document titled “Rules on Elections Conduct in the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2022” in a nutshell brings together the various existing election rules including candidate criteria and party manifestos as well as the role of media, amongst others.

However, there are no concrete updates on the draft “Rules of Election Conduct” and the document will most probably be tabled in the upcoming winter session of parliament. And, going by the talks doing the rounds a majority, if not all, seems to be in favour of the proposal given the crucial role these members of parliament have in the apex decision making process of the nation.

If things go as intended, apart from substantially altering the rules of engagement it is envisaged that not every aspiring candidates who wish to pursue a career in politics will have an easy go at it because of the mandatory work experience clause. The electorate also expressed concerns of fresh university graduates gambling their luck in the political foray while they had little or no intention of what they were actually pursuing.

This, many say, is partially fuelled by the ECB’s campaign funds that are given to each and every candidate which some candidates consider a windfall, while the enticing prospect of being proffered with the easy “Dasho” tag and all the perks attached with being a MP is altogether a fruit too juicy to be missed.

However, the ECB while in its pursuit of more capable candidates to represent our critical legislative arm must also be wary of the challenges and situations that might arise. For instance, the clause that mandates a candidate for the “need to convince the commission that they are people of integrity with excellent character and reputation” might sound too farfetched if they do not have the necessary tools to gauge these characteristics in a candidate or, at best, draw the moral compass that distinguishes a weak candidate from a good.