Close on the heels of the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court regarding the ‘unconstitutionality’ of jacking taxes, as the High Court deemed it, comes yet another jolt. At times like theses it does beget the feeling that our forebears were pretty clinical when they called Bhutan the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Sometimes the thunder is a mere whimper, at others, it can bellow loud enough to alarm Kumbhakarna. The growl and the menacing roar this time around concerns neither the government nor the opposition but rather the well respected corridors of the Election Commission of Bhutan and their somewhat beguiling decision to ignore a plain constitutional requirement; namely the pre-requisite compulsion of the voter to have been registered for at least the duration of one year in order to be eligible to vote in a new setting. Somehow, the same applies to a candidate who wishes to contest from a certain chosen village or valley, although it has not been explicitly mentioned or spelt so in the constitution.
Now the LG elections are being pushed fervently by the ECB. And that is also well received and appreciated. The quiet little thunder making the noise is the same: is it constitutional? When the matter was brought up by a reporter at the Meet the Press session to the Prime Minister’s notice, the PM, perhaps like the rest of us, had not been aware of such a requisite. That’s no crime. The PM is an immensely intelligent and charismatic leader who is seldom or never caught off guard. This was one of those moments when we felt a little better about being ‘us’ when he wasn’t spot on. The PM had, upon clarification from one of his cabinet members, commented that it could be a case of “liberal interpretation of the constitution.”
A prominent member of parliament was said to have commented that if an issue that is obviously complex to begin with never minding the inundating details, such as the meaning of enlightenment, could of course, take just shelter in the liberal interpretation mode but certainly not a clause that specifically denotes the length of time required to be eligible, which is as plain as it gets. His vexation was not so much with elections but rather the seemingly casual manner in which that simple requirement was negated. Others have spoken about the constitution as being a document that will need time, action and reflection to truly mature and evolve to become what it has been envisaged to be – a document that protects the Bhutanese system while constantly growing, evolving, in an almost organic way, to become a force of the highest immunity.
There are many other points in the constitution that have yet to be implemented. But it is more important now to remember that the constitution is only as old as the government and the government is only as old as democracy – a couple of months shy of three years.
Perhaps we are all jumping the gun here. Cocking left and right and misfiring in all directions, forgetting to focus on the goal. And the goal has always been clear and simple – to nurture a democracy like no other in the world fashioned with and in our own Bhutanese image, with all its goodwill and compassion hidden somewhat beneath the shells of eager cynicism and opportunistic myopia. After all, we all live in a boat and a boat that leaks is a boat that will sink. And who among us wants to go to jail for smoking a cigarette without a receipt or for protecting the source? Nobody; unless you are gunning for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.