Political parties and MPs are in a rush to finish their respective familiarization tours and constituency visits before 15th February, 2018, after which such meetings and visits will be strictly prohibited in view of the upcoming National Council elections.
The ECB has already announced February to May as the NC election period and August to October as the NA election period when government agencies, corporations, private agencies, religious bodies and the general public are prohibited from having any public gatherings.
This NC election period movement and meeting restriction will particularly apply to NA MPs as the ECB does not want the NC race to be politicized or its outcome affected by any kind of political influence.
The ECB is expected to announce the NC election dates anytime towards the mid or end of February.
The 2018 NC race is characterized by high number of candidates with 172 officially registered with the ECB though the actual numbers are higher as many have not yet registered with the ECB. Even many former senior officials and NA MPs have thrown in their hats into the race. This is a far cry from the first NC elections in 2007 when 5 Dzongkhags did not have NC candidates and a second round had to be conducted just for them.
Once the dates are announced the ECB Dzongkhag teams will set up Gewog level zomdus where aspiring candidates will be allowed to address the gewog after which voting via an EVM will lead to a shortlisting of one candidate from the gewog. Until this stage, candidates can even show up at the last minute and propose their names at the gewog meeting.
After that the final candidate from the gewog will then submit his or her documents to the returning officer who will conduct the scrutiny. There will be one day given after the scrutiny for candidates who have changed their mind to withdraw from the race.
The final names are announced for the NC race after which gewog level meetings in all gewogs for all the candidates together are announced by the ECB. This is to avoid different candidates calling different individual zomdus though they are not barred from doing so. Candidates during the 30-day election period can even go door to door campaigning.
At the Dzongkhag level the candidates will get to debate and talk live on BBS in a common forum.
Each NC candidate will get Nu 130,000 in election expenditure in addition to the ECB printing their manifestos and facilitating media time.
At the close of the month long election period, there will be a 48-hour blackout period after which the poll will be held and results will be announced. There will be 10 days given to contest or challenge the results.
All of this is expected to take place within April as the current NC finishes its term by 9th May and a new NC is expected to be constituted by 10th May as a continuous house.
Unlike in 2013 the sitting NC candidates do not have to resign to contest with the condition that they cannot use their blue kabney, patang and any official facilities.
The ECB has proposed a budget of around Nu 250 mn for the NC race.
The current National Assembly and government will finish its term by 2nd August after which within that month the ECB will give a notification of election along with the dates for the primary round.
The primary round, this time around, is expected to be more competitive with new parties like BKP and DNT inducting senior candidates and also conducting a lot of out reach and familiarization drives.
For the primary round the registered parties have to submit a letter of intent which must include the names and documents of the 47 candidates.
In 2013 BKP was disqualified at this stage as it did not have the two candidates from Gasa. It is compulsory to have all 47 candidates.
The shortlisted parties will then be announced by the ECB who will also organize the gewog level zomdus for all the candidates together. At this stage there will be a national televised common forum debate only between the Presidents and the Vice Presidents of the parties.
In addition to the official zomdus the candidates and parties can call their own meetings or even go door to door. Local dialects are only allowed in such privately called meetings and not in the ECB organized zomdus.
After almost a month long campaign period there will be a 48-hour blackout period and then the poll day.
The parties getting the first and second highest votes will go onto the general election round.
In the general elections instead of the party the individual candidates have to file their own nominations with the returning officers. Candidates can replace or update missing documents as long as nomination is filed before the last day and similarly parties can also replace candidates.
However, after the last date and scrutiny of documents even if a candidate is disqualified the other party’s candidate will go for a yes or no vote.
At the election campaign period each constituency will have a common forum debate between candidates that will be televised nationally.
The candidates will also get to do official ECB organized gewog zomdus and their own meetings and campaigning.
After the 48-hour blackout and poll day the provisional results will be given on poll day with the official results coming out the next day only.
The ECB hopes to get this all over by the end of October 2018 but minor time extensions are not ruled out due to any unforeseen exigencies.