Yeshi- Hi, this is yeshey Zangmo from BCMD’s media lab bringing you the podcast on the voting rights of the monk.
Philocrites, a Greek Philosopher, once said that when you mix religion with politics, you get politics. However, in Bhutan, religion and politics were inseparable for many years. During the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel the monk body played a highly political role in electing the head of the states indirectly. Today this practice of choosing the leaders democratically has been used to provide the framework of the present democratic system.
Fast forward to 2008 Bhutan made the transition to a Constitutional democracy where people all across the country are excited about their fundamental voting rights yet there are about 2200 estimated monks who are deprived of exercising this right. Why? Aren’t monks the citizens of our country? This is the question that comes in the mind of the people.
As per the article 3 section 3 of the constitution of the kingdom of Bhutan it states, “Religious institutions and personalities shall remain above politics”.
So keeping this act in our mind, we talked to different people from different walks of life.
The chief election commissioner of Bhutan, Dasho Kuenzang Wangdi says:
Dasho Kuenzang Wangdi- “ when we read the constitution, obviously, every Bhutanese is entitled to vote, first register as voter and then if he or she wants, entitled to vote.
But as a constitution, religious personalities, institutions will not get involved in politics nor they will be entitled to vote. It does not say entitled to vote, constitution says like the Royal family they will remain apolitical.
Yeshi- As explained by Dasho, section 18 of the election act of the kingdom of Bhutan also reiterates that“ they shall remain above politics and shall not use their influence for the benefit of any party or candidate.
Dasho Kuenzang Wangdi- If they were involved in this process then definitely it would not be party politics but it will be politics using one sect against the other sect, religious institutional school against other”.
yeshi: So far Bhutan has tried and kept religion and politics as two separate issues.
Otherwise, mixing religion and politics would put the country in an extremely perilous situation.
We also talked to a media officer, sonam choden working in the ministry of labour and human resource.
Sonam choden- “The majority of the people that will be influenced will be the people living in the rural areas, if the monk have been influenced then it wont be fair and justice during the election, monk should not be allowed to vote.”
Yeshi- However, Mr. Tenzin Lamsang, chief editor of the ‘The Bhutanese’ shares his personal view on why religious institutions are deprived of their voting rights.
Lamsang- “when a religious person enters politics, if you are allowed to vote, you are allowed to contest also, I think the main aim here was to prevent from contesting and by default that translated to not voting also”.
Yeshi- he also shares how it would affect the democratic system.
Lamsang- Our Bhutanese people may be not in urban areas so much but in rural areas are extremely religious. And if a prominent lam of whichever sects get up and says, I don’t like this politician, that politician is finished.”
Yeshi- because people have so much faith in the monk body, they will trust anything they say – even if it’s political.
Therefore, the decision of not mixing religion and politics is accepted and appreciated even by the monk body.
Lopen Gembo of the Zhung Dratshang at Tasshichoedzong says,
Voiceover- “when it comes to election we all know what it really it, its all abided by the constitution of Bhutan.
As far as a person is a citizen of Bhutan and is above the age of 18, he or she is allowed to vote. However, when it comes to religion and politics it is said that religion should be kept out of politics, clean and pure.”
Yeshi- according to Lopen Gembo the good thing about the constitution is that the constitution has accorded the monks the privilege that which ever party rules should serve them in the same manner as the rest of the citizens.
In other countries where monks are politically active, such as Burma, the results have been violence and a decline in trust of the monk body as stated in the global post where in a wave of an anti-Muslim violence resulting in the deaths of more than 200 people and displacement of some 150,000 from their homes in recent months.
Yeshi-. Though they cannot vote, monks still have a very important role in society. They maintain harmony and preserve our culture and tradition. Most importantly, they seek the highest goal – enlightenment. Isn't that better than any promise a party can offer?
With this we come to the end of our podcast and we strongly feel that the way our country separates religion and politics is something that should be appreciated and not debated.
So thank you for listening to our podcast.