Bhutan has a total of 432,030 voters of which 220,881 are females and 211,149 are males as of 1st of January 2018, the qualifying date for the NC Elections 2018.
Out of the total registered voters in the country, 88915 have registered as Postal Voters for the National Council Election 2018.
Out of the 130 candidates nominated through the Dhamngoi Zomdu, 127 candidates made it through the scrutiny processes and did not withdraw during the withdrawal period. The NC candidates have now officially commenced their door to door election campaigns from Tuesday.
The three candidates who discontinued their race for the National council election are Mon Bdr Rai from Samtenling gewog in Sarpang, Dorji Wangchuk from Bidung gewog in Trashigang, and Ugyen Dorji from Norbugang Gewog in Pemagatshel.
The NC race is unprecedented for the interest shown by both candidates and also high voter turnouts during the Dhamngoi Zomdus. There were 67 NC candidates in the 2013 NC race. There also seems to be a much better awareness of the NC’s roles and responsibilities among both the candidates and voters. The NC now in its second term has been playing an increasingly important national role.
Whatever the outcome, it is certain that the current NC incumbents of which 12 are contesting will all have a very tough fight on their hands.
The public debate which has been scheduled already started on Thursday with Lhuntse Dzongkhag and Samtse on Friday. Bumthang Dzongkhag will have its public debate on Saturday. The debate for other dzongkhags like Mongar are scheduled on 25th March, which will be followed successively by Chukha on 26th March, Trongsa on 27th, Trashiyangtse on 28th, Haa on 29th, Zhemgang on 30th, Trashigang 31st, Paro on 1stof April, Sarpang on 2nd April, Pemagatshel on April 3rd, Punakha on 4th, Wangdue Phodrang on 5th, Samdrup Jongkhar on 6th, Dagana on 7th, Gasa on 8th, Tsirang on 9th, and Thimphu on the 10th of April.
All the debates will be broadcasted live by the state broadcaster in the evening in between news broadcast.
The sitting arrangements of the candidates during the debate are done by drawing lots and the opening of the question bank from the sealed envelope will be performed in presence of the candidates, Dzongkhag Election Officer, anchor and the producer. The duration of the debate will depend on the number of candidates.
Mongar still has the highest number of candidates at 13 followed by Tsirang at 12 with the the lowest candidates being Bumthang at 2 and Gasa and Trongsa at three each. Of the others Samtse has 9, Dagana 10, Chukha 6, Haa 4, Paro 6, Thimphu 5, Punakha 8, Wangdue Phodrang 5, Sarpang 7, Zhemgang 5, Lhuentse 5, Trashiyangtse 6, Trashigang 7, Samdrup Jongkhar 6 and Pemagatshel with 6 candidates.
The NC election campaign ends on 18th April at 9 am for a 48-hour blackout period to allow the voters to reflect and think on their choices. The voters then vote on 20th April 2018 to elect the new NC members with the results being declared on the same day.
On the funding aspect the head of ECB’s Department of Civic and Electoral Training and ECB’s spokesperson, Phub Dorji said Bhutan is only one of the few countries providing state funds to give equal opportunities to the candidates irrespective of their financial background.
Phub Dorji said that when the first election was conducted in 2008, the Election Campaign Fund was Nu 100,000, which increased to Nu 130,000 in the Second Parliamentary Election and the candidates will now qualify for Nu 150, 000 election campaign fund in this third Parliamentary election.
“ECB also provides assistance to the candidates in the form of kind, which includes all the expenses born for their campaign materials like posters, play cards according to their design which will not in be included in the state funding package,” he said.
Phub Dorji said that the election campaign fund sanctioned by the state is specifically for their campaign purposes where they can utilize the funds for the payment of DSA for their election representatives and for themselves. “If the candidates do not own a vehicle, they can hire a vehicle for travelling and even if they own a car, they can use the funds for claiming mileage, they can also use the funds for the expenses incurred on the communication front, charges for hiring an office space for the convenience of the candidates and for paying off the electricity and water bills after renting that space during the campaign.”
Accordingly, the candidates will have to submit their expenditure statement on weekly basis to the National Observers, who are also tasked with the duty of an expenditure observer who will countersign the related bills.
The candidates are required to open a new bank account in any of the financial institutions for the election campaign fund. This, as explained by the ECB spokesperson is to allow fair settlement of accounts. “For instance, candidate A already might have enough money deposited in his account, and which might not be the case with candidate B, so what ECB really requires is the proper and clean bank statement for settling that account for the 30 days from the poll day. So it always better, clean and safe if they open a separate new account and in that way it ensures check and balance system that in no money power is involved in getting a candidate elected.”
The candidates are not allowed to exceed the ceiling amount according to the ECB rules and regulations. ECB also had instances in the past when few of the candidates refunded almost half of the funds which couldn’t be utilized during the campaign period, although maximum of the candidates utilized the whole of the funds.
The media houses are also allowed to cover or carry out paid advertisements on the candidates, and the candidates are also allowed to use social media as a tool to reach out to the voters and engage in online familiarization.
There are 20 Returning Officers, each in every Dzongkhag who are assisted by their respective Assistant Returning Officer and Dzongkhag Election Officers.