Although this issue has been on my mind for a while now, I thought it was irrelevant once the National Council rejected NA’s amendments to the Election Act that would allow state funding for political parties.
But in his state of the nation report in the parliament, the Prime Minister spent a good amount of time arguing for it, indicating that the issue is far from closed as far as the DPT government is concerned. So I am publishing my point of view on the matter here.
In an earlier post, I wrote why I think party system does not make sense in Bhutan- although our constitution clearly defines our democratic system to have political parties.
With regard to state funding as suggested by the ruling party, I feel that any amendment to the election act would be wrong.
It would be wrong because as far as I see it, although I am no law student, the constitution seems pretty clear in the matter- state funding as suggested by the ruling party is not mentioned in the constitution, which has provision for a certain type of state funding already- the state is to fund a certain amount required for campaigning during elections. Any addition to that would be violation of the constitution. So unless the constitution itself is amended to include other types of state funding, to introduce it in other legislation would be illegal.
It would also set a negative precedence of willfully dodging the most important of all laws in the country. Any new law or policy introduced in the country must be undisputable in its adherence to the constitution, and finding a loophole in the law, especially when a large number of people, including, notably, the chief justice of Bhutan disagree, would be dangerous.
So, first and foremost, amending the election act to allow state funding to run political parties after elections would be illegal.
Secondly, such a system would take away a lot of money from the state, and allowing the government to decide how much money should be allowed, instead of the election commission (as suggested in the amendments by the National Assembly) would be, once again, a violation of the constitution and also obviously wrong.
Thirdly, when it comes to state funding itself, I am not convinced that Bhutan needs it now. In many countries state funding may be the right way to go about the whole democratic process, but every country is unique. As of now Bhutan does not have very rich individuals willing to donate extraordinary amounts of money to a party, thereby risking the possibility of ‘controlled’ parties which would make choosing candidates and policy decisions based on the interests of those parties.
And, in a largely illiterate society, with still a number of people living in poverty, there is a risk that state funds would be used to buy votes, directly and indirectly- a risk similar to that perceived when Constituency Development Grant was allowed.
I may be mistaken here, and this could stem from my lack of experience in politics, but I feel that a Bhutanese political party should not require a lot of money to exist- and that if it is unable to sustain itself on the money that it raises from member donations, it falls upon the party itself to cut costs.
Spending a lot of money for the sole purpose of running political parties in a donor dependent country like Bhutan, which still has a long way to go in terms of economic development seems wrong. Simply put, that money could be utilized to benefit the people elsewhere. And for a GNH society that we aspire to be, the interests of the people should come before the existence of political parties.
In Bhutan the state already pays for election campaigns, and the argument that without state funding the two existing parties will die seems flawed. There must be other ways to raise money, or resolve this issue, and asking the state for a bailout seems like the easy way out.
The democratic system, government, and the political parties were formed in this country to serve the people. Overlooking the people and focusing on the survival of the means is counterproductive to that goal.