The public advisory issued by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) that religious or any other events involving public are to be avoided during the election period to ensure smooth, free and fair elections has been receiving mixed views from the public.
While some feel that it is for the benefit of both the public and aspiring candidates, others are of the view that such restrictions are an act of draconian imposition and an overkill by the ECB.
One instance that people point to is marriage gatherings not being allowed and that even funeral related gathering requiring permission from the local governments. Many have also criticized that religious gatherings are also being restricted.
The ECB’s Head of Civic and Electoral Training Department, Phub Dorji, said it is a misconception that the Commission wants to put restrictions on the people. “We are just trying to give protection to the people. During the election period, even if there is no substantial misconduct by the candidates, some people might blow the situation out of proportion, which might lead to people being called to the election management body or to court. To avoid such unnecessary hassles we are requesting the people of refrain from organizing any public events,” he said.
Phub Dorji explained that if any of the spiritual masters or the monk body is organizing the religious activities without the involvement or interference of the voters, the Commission will not object to that. “When people gather together, they are bound to talk about the election and start discussions about the candidates, which might be true and at times false with a malicious intent, so we don’t want any such issues to come up before or after the elections,” he said.
The advisory further states, that all the government agencies, autonomous bodies, corporations, private offices, religious organization and the general public are being advised well ahead of time that so that any such activities involving public gathering can be planned, avoiding the time period of February to May 2018 for the NC elections and August to October for the NA elections.
Phub Dorji said the advisory had been issued almost a year ago so that people can plan their events accordingly while exceptions will be made for unavoidable circumstances like death or natural disasters. “Although no permission needs to be sought to perform the funeral rites during the death of a person, it’s indeed sad that people need to inform the local authorities that they will be performing funeral rites on that particular day, but then, on the brighter side it is to avoid any unnecessary issues in the future,” Phub Dorji said.
The commission will also not impose any restrictions on public gathering during the national events. “Where an individual has no influence over the huge gathering, we allow such activities, whereas if it’s a local event involving public gathering where the voters can easily be influenced, it will not be allowed,” he said.
The aspiring candidates registering for the upcoming NC election has increased by almost 4 times compared to the 2013 election. “We would like to say that people are understating more about our democracy and that they are trying to make it more vibrant through participation, thus providing better options for the people to choose the best amongst all,” said Phub Dorji.
As of date, 175 council candidates have registered with the Election Commission of Bhutan, out of which there are only 8 women aspirants. There are 140 candidates with Bachelors Degree, 34 with Masters Degree and a lone candidate with PhD.