Dasho Dr. Sonam Kinga

Dr_Sonam_kingaDasho Dr. Sonam Kinga, the Chairperson of the National Council, talks to The Raven on challenges pertaining to the house of review.

Q. Congratulations on your win! How do you feel being elected to the National Council for a second term?

A. Winning the trust of voters for the second time from the country’s largest constituency is a big honour and even bigger a responsibility. I think we are looking forward to an exciting five-year in the course of deepening our young democracy. As a member and as Chairperson of the National Council, I feel that my commitments should be to make this institution very relevant to the everyday needs and aspirations of our people.

 

Q.Can you talk our readers through some of the issues that you’d like to table this time around in parliament?

A. My election commitments are to uphold and protect the Constitution so that those in power do not seek to amend it to remain in power or benefit a few people. I intend to call for an exhaustive review of agriculture policy so that we move beyond supporting subsistence farming and begin to think of agriculture not just as the realm of illiterate peasants but as a vibrant sector of a modern Bhutanese economy. I also intend to call for a review of employment policies so that the issue of unemployment particularly youth unemployment can be better addressed by the government. As in the last five years, I commit myself to address the so-called small issues which may not have much to do with my legislative and review mandate but which may have direct and more meaningful impact on the everyday lives of our people.

 

Q.Most voters, even after five years of democracy, are still unclear about the role of the National Council. What, according to you, is the role of the NC?

A. I do not think there is a need to pretend that we do not know what the mandate of National Council is. The people generally understand its law-making, review and check and balance functions. We have used the last five years to continually and repeatedly inform people about the roles and responsibilities of NC. I think the lack of clarity stems from the fact that these functions have been made to perceive like the work of that of an opposition. It is important to reflect on how and who projected this image of NC as that of an opposition and created ‘confusion’.

 In Trashigang, some people with political affiliation attempted to influence elections. But the people are far more informed and experienced this time owing to voter education.

Q. The voter turnout was much lower this year compared to the first Council election in 2008. Has the low turnout got to do with the general perception that people give less importance to the National Council as opposed to the National Assembly?

A. It is possible that the perception of National Council as less important an institution may be a cause for low voter turnout. But it is not the only reason. First, I chose to contest for National Council when the prevailing view is that competent people should contest for National Assembly seats. I do this to emphasize the fact that the National Council is no less in importance and relevance. In fact, more mature and experienced people should contest for National Council elections. Second, low voter turnout is largely an urban phenomenon. People in villages do come and vote. In fact, rural turnout would be comparatively much higher. Third, costs associated with urban folks to go to villages and vote is quite high. It is not just about going home to vote but about visiting family members and relatives. That has lots of social and familial obligations. Fourth, many Tashigangpas thought that I would anyway win since there were no other contestants. I think this is true of single candidate constituency like Dagana as well. Fifth, NC candidates do not have networks like party machineries to mobilize and rally voters to vote.

Dr_Sonam_kinga_NC_chairperson

 

Q. Even with more women voters, not a single woman candidate was elected. What could have led to such a trend and how will this impact the National Council?

A. Certainly the presence of women members in Parliament brings along its own dynamics of gender perspective on issues and other considerations. This is good and desirable. However, we cannot question the electorate’s choice but respect it. His Majesty’s gracious and well-considered reappointment of five eminent members consisting of two women is a great contribution and support to the composition of National Council. I am confident that they and the men members will be sensitive to the presence of fewer women and represent women’s concerns well.

 

Q. Only six former Council members were re-elected this time. Why, in your opinion, did the others fare badly at the polls, despite the legislative experience they could have brought to the Council?

A. The reasons for electoral outcomes concerning former members would differ across constituencies. They range from anti-incumbency factor to assessment of candidates’ performances, candidates’ touch with their constituencies, availability of more choices, demographic strength of constituencies from which candidates were nominated and many others.

 Certainly the presence of women members in Parliament brings along its own dynamics of gender perspective on issues and other considerations. However, we cannot question the electorate’s choice but respect it.

Q. There are rumors that political parties influenced the National Council elections in some of the constituencies, including your own. How true are these rumors true?

A. Although I think rumours are rumours, they do not happen just like that. There would be basis for rumours to take a life of their own. However, I am not in a position to comment about this issue in other constituencies. In Trashigang, some people with political affiliation attempted to influence elections. But the people are far more informed and experienced this time owing to voter education conducted by election officials as well as my own efforts during campaign period. The people largely did not give in to attempts of influence of such people and ensured that the elections were successful by choosing to vote independently.

 

Q. A lot of young candidates have been elected to the National Council this year. Are you worried that most members, in the house of review, are inexperienced? And, how will it bode for the Nation?

A.The re-election of six old members and His Majesty’s gracious and well-considered re-appointment of the five eminent members strike a fine balance with the educational background and work experience of fourteen new members. I think the continuity of the National Council in terms of institutional experience and memory of eleven former members and injection of fresh perspectives, knowledge and energy by the new members make this National Council an exciting and strong team. I feel very confident about the members.

 

Q.  Trashigang is the biggest Dzongkhag in the country, with a huge proportion of highly qualified individuals. Yet, no one stood to contest the NC election with you. Did your receiving the red scarf last year dissuade potential candidates?

A. Tashigang indeed has a pool of highly qualified people serving in different agencies. There were indications earlier that people were going to contest along with me, and I welcomed them. Some even came and talked to me about their interest. Besides, Radhi Gewog formally nominated a candidate in a gewog zomdue although he withdrew later. More people however, were interested in joining political parties than contesting for National Council. The honour of red scarf should not have deterred anyone from contesting. In fact, it should be a motivation for people to stand as candidates and serve our country.

 

Q. As postal ballots are only meant for civil servants and corporate employees, private employees are left with no choice but to go to their designated polling stations to cast their votes. And this translates into a lot of expenses. If the Election Commission had allowed people to vote from their station of residence, would it have resulted in a bigger voter turnout? How can elections be made more accessible to the people?

A. I think we need to re-think how to expand voting opportunities. Even though postal ballots are made available to some group of voters, my own experience finds that many postal ballots are not counted due to mistakes made by applicants. Postal ballots are costly. So we need to explore alternatives. I feel that while postal ballot opportunities need to be continued, alternatives such as opening 20 polling stations during National Council elections and 47 during National Assembly elections in larger towns like Thimphu, Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar and settlements with large population of armed forces and students should be considered. Let alone private and corporate employees and their family members, even civil servants may choose to come and vote rather than send postal ballots. Voting can also be spread over a few days rather than confining them to one day. For eligible voters in other countries, e-votes could be considered. It is not impossible.

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