The Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi in an interview with The Bhutanese Editor-in-Chief Tenzing Lamsang addresses some questions on fairness of the 2013 race
Q. Some people have questioned why reporters were asked to move out while postal ballots were being counted. Could you please clarify and also state if this, in anyway, affects the fairness of the counting process? Where party representatives present there to ensure a transparent count?
A. First of all, it must be explained that the postal ballot counting process starts earlier on the Poll Day at the Demkhong headquarters i.e. Office of the Returning Officer, before the close of Polls in the Polling Stations. From previous experiences elsewhere, we found that premature leaking of the postal ballot results could influence voting as the polling is ongoing till 5pm. Therefore, in the interest of free and fair elections, reporters were told that it was not necessary to cover every aspect of postal ballot counting. In fact, in earlier elections, we had the BBS complaining and rightly so, that they were restrained to announce the results as they were complying with the requirements of ECB, while other media were free to release the result news in real time basis from the polling station itself. However, the candidates or their representatives are, by law, allowed to be present at the Counting Centers, and they were present to ensure a fair count, but this time they were asked to leave their phones outside and give a written undertaking that they would not leak the results before the close of Polls.
Q. DPT party workers and members in the media have alleged foul play in postal ballots. Has the ECB found any evidence or proof to substantiate this allegation or received any complaints?
A. The aggrieved party was requested to submit the actual “cases” that they were being referred to. None have been forthcoming as of this day. It can be concluded that these were mere allegations. If they had any concrete issues, then they would have petitioned to the High Court, as required by the Electoral Laws. We are certain that while human errors are possible, especially in the case of illiterate postal voters, it is most likely that this would be a negligible percentage, as concerted efforts were made to educate voters with emphasis on the importance of secrecy in marking the ballot. As to a party or candidate receiving more postal votes, it cannot be concluded as being due to foul play since voting means making a choice or expressing a preference of one over the other. As far as the ECB is concerned, all measures for a free and fair polling by postal ballots were in place.
Q. The DPT president, in an interview to Kuensel on its 17th July issue said, “I am also disheartened not with the loss but with the means used to mobilize to defeat. Neither DPT failed its people nor people failed the party, but many factors, mostly unfair ones, let us down.”As per this statement and others, the DPT president along with his party members is alleging that the election was not free and fair and there was a widespread malpractice. What is your view as the CEC?
A. We would like to point out that, except for few people, all other stakeholders in the country, and even the entire international community has felicitated the success of our young election system. Some have even commented that the Election 2013 was conducted better than 2008.The cases that are being referred are no more than allegations, given the lack of facts and evidence, without which, under our Laws, nothing can be done. Everyone needs to know, by now, that as per our laws, system and procedures, there can be only one Ruling Party, as outcome of the Election is determined by the verdict of the electorate and judgment of the majority; a majority which must assure and respect the rights and wellbeing of the minority.
Q. How many complaints has the ECB received so far after the election results were announced?
A. Not a single case was reported or filed as Election Petition to the High Court during the Election Petition Period.
Q. What were the views of the foreign observers on the electoral process?
A. The Election Commission is happy that the international community had full confidence in the capacity of the Bhutanese to conduct free and fair elections. Many praised Bhutan for the successful conduct of the second Parliamentary Elections. The EU, for instance, was satisfied with fielding only two observers against more than fifteen professional officers with the backing of the UNDP establishment and a fleet of Bhutanese hired to assist them, and they were in addition, equipped with sophisticated instruments and backed by full complement of experts in 2008. Only 19 international media observed our elections this time, unlike the whole world media houses in 2008.As far as we know no adverse observations have been made by any media on the conduct of the elections this year.
At this point of time, let us all pay due tribute to the electorate and public servants who have dedicated their unstinting services to the cause of building a vibrant Democracy in the Kingdom, as envisioned by our Beloved Monarchs and enshrined in our Constitution.