Villages in rural parts of Bhutan are facing a serious shortage of manpower to carry out community projects. Also, voter participation is declining in the villages as more people migrate from rural to urban areas each year. This has the people in the gewogs worried as the second Local Government Election is nearing this year.
A study carried out shows that the voter turnout for the National Assembly (NA) elections plummeted from 79 percent in 2008 to 55 percent (primary round) and 66 percent (general election) in 2013. For the National Council (NC) elections, it is even more dismal, with only 44 percent of voters going to vote in 2013 compared to 53 percent in 2008.
To cast votes, voters in Bhutan have to physically present themselves on election day at their registered polling station, however, they can also vote through the postal ballot system if eligible.
Khaling gewog, alone, has over 67 abandoned houses (Gungtong) and Dreawoong village has the highest number of desolate houses followed by Barshong village.
According to Khaling Gup, Tashi Dorji, such development has become prominent over the years and has caused various inconveniences, both in societal and political areas.
Tashi Dorji said that the gewog office conducted a research on villagers abandoning their homes, and it found out that most of the old parents left their homes to babysit their grandchildren, and the youth are leaving their village homes in search of better livelihood.
In some rare cases, the Gup said that due to human-wildlife conflict, the villagers choose to migrate to urban areas.
He said that such movement pattern has affected the full voter participation during the elections and as a result the eligible voters remain absent from voting.
Since migration is growing each year, the Gup said that he is worried about the voter turnout in the upcoming LG election.
From 3,733 registered voters in Khaling gewog, about 2,569 voters have turned out during the first LG election held in 2011.
Without postal ballot facilities, the migrated populations will have to come back to their villages to physically cast their votes.
“They do not turn up to vote because it would entail lots of expenditures, which they said they cannot afford,” Gup Tashi Dorji said.
Magmi of Khaling gewog, Tshewang, also shared that as a result of Gungtong, voter turnout has declined as people are either less concerned about who gets elected and some of them cannot afford to travel to their polling stations as they reside far away.
He said that in future, if other alternatives do not come in place, such trend will affect in electing the right candidates and voter participation will plummet.
He also shared the problem of Gungtong, leaving the villagers with additional burden as all community works and collection have to be borne by the few remaining villagers.
Meanwhile, Lumang gewog is also equally suffering from the result of declining population in the village.
So far, Lumang gewog has over 87 abandoned homes from the total of 750 households.
According to Lumang Gup, Tandin Wangchuk, said there are no specific reasons for the decreasing turnout, but he said it is of serious concerns being a young democracy.
He said that due to Gungtong, the villages that left their homes have high chances of not showing up for voting, and some may not even return home permanently.
“Gungtong may not have much impact now in election front, but in the future, it will be a problem,” Tandin Wangchuk said.
He said that the declining voter participation is evident from the past three elections.
“More awareness regarding the importance of votes should be created, and people must be encouraged to show full participation in election,” Gup Tandin Wangchuk said.
However, he said that he is hopeful that those left the village will turnout for the upcoming LG election.
According to the people residing in the village, those absent voters should be allowed to use online voting system. They said such a system will be easy to use, as well as handy for the public.