Cutting down on poll day costs may create confusion at grass roots

If the Election Commission of Bhutan decides to club the poll day for the National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) together, it may not bode well for the conduct of free and fair elections, say some critics.

The commission had said that doing so would save Nu 184 mn from the government coffers but according to  a researcher,  with 80% of voters consisting of illiterate villagers, the idea seemed “ impossible”  since it would create a lot of confusion regarding the candidates. “We cannot eat the cake and have it, too.”

A concerned civil servant suggested that if the plan cannot be retracted by any means, there should at least be double voting compartments.

“The ECB should create voter awareness and do grounds work at the community level,” said another civil servant.

The recent ECB conference held on the premise “Strategizing for Parliamentary Election 2013” on 24 March considered three options for the conduct of parliamentary elections in 2013: the possibility of having the same poll day for National Council elections and primary round of elections to National Assembly, or the same poll day for National Council elections and general elections to National Assembly, or the different poll days for National Council elections and National Assembly.

However, Director, of ECB Secretariat,  Dawa Tenzin said, “We have not finalized anything now but we will be working on it and voter’s education will be given special consideration; in fact we are  going to conduct two rounds of voter’s  education.”

According to an aspiring politician, Sangay Thinley, this type of judgment should be left to the judiciary but  the ECB can also educate voters on the complexities if such a thing takes place.

Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Damcho Dorji said “If ECB works on this plan then voter turn out would be less as it is going to have great implication on voters at the village level,” MP Damcho Dorji commented that this problem of possible confusion can be solved if ECB allows postal ballot  from any place.

National Council (NC) Chairperson Namgay Penjore said that this type of election process  is at more risk of being politicized as more candidates are going to contest on the same day. He also added that the nation should not worry if the budget is a bit on the higher side. “The most important thing is that elections should be done on free and fair grounds.”

“There is need to teach our voters not only on the electorate process but also to educate the public on the roles and responsibility of NC and NA” said a private employee adding that during the 2008 election, ECB did not teach voters more than pressing a button while candidates who were contesting were found to be talking on the duties and roles of NA and NC.

NC  MP Kuenley Tshering said that if the Election Commission has considered three options for the conduct of Parliamentary elections in 2013, the Commission must have considered the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, the National Council and the National Assembly Acts, and the Electoral Laws such as the Election Act of Bhutan.

He also added that in doing so the Election Commission must have considered that the National Council shall continue for five years from the date of  its first sitting and the National Council elections shall be held so that the House is reconstituted on the date of expiry of its term.

According to the NC member Jagar Dorji, if ECB comes out with different compartments confusion cannot be completely avoided. He hoped that ECB would formulate a different but effective strategy to solve this problem. MP Jagar Dorji commented that it is going to create campaign conflict between NC and NA candidates as one is  apolitical while the other one is political.

Gewog Administrative Officer of Talo, Tshewang Dorji shared  with The Bhutanese that this type of plan is advantageous only for cutting costs but ECB should not forget that the majority of voters will be illiterate villagers at the grass root level.

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