In terms of perceptions, the survey conducted by Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) found that women, in general, are considered less capable and inferior in decision-making and for representation in elective offices. The survey found the number of women coming forward to contest elections has not been encouraging.
In Bhutan, the number of women contesting elections and being elected are low, in comparison to men, and the issues of inadequate representation of women in the elective offices are raised often. The number of women being nominated and elected to the National Assembly, the National Council and the Local Governments in Bhutan are less than 8%.
The Study of the Determinants of Voter’s Choice and Women’s Participation in Elective Offices in the Kingdom of Bhutan of ECB says that in regards to reform of the current practices, more than half (50.8%) of the voters indicated ‘educating women’ as the best reform to enhance their participation in the electoral process, followed by 24% suggesting the introduction of quota system and reserved seats for women, and 12.3% for having simpler and straight forward electoral process and requirements to enhance women’s political participation.
The report indicates that the common forum and public debates, media, civic and voter education programmes are the major sources of information to voters. The majority (85%) of the voters answered that they were able to gather necessary campaign information, including the media advertisement on political parties and candidates and other related voter’s information on elections, through the media.
Report shows that the common forums and public debates are the two most important campaign platforms attended or observed by the general voters. However, the report says, “The least effective means of campaigning were campaign rallies, posters, banners and leaflets.’’
The study was conducted to seek understanding of the factors that determine women’s political and electoral participation as equal part and constituent of the Bhutanese electoral democracy and population.
The study also hopes to seek appropriate remedies and interventions that can be undertaken as policy changes and decisions, to bring about a more balanced representation of the Bhutanese women in all aspects of Bhutanese democracy, particularly in elective offices and in decision making institutions.
The report also points out that the Constitution and the Electoral Laws provide equal civic and political rights to all Bhutanese women to take part in all aspects of electoral and political processes. In 2013, of the total 94 candidates nominated in the General Elections, including the by-election to Nanong_Shumar National Assembly Demkhong in Pema Gatshel, only 11 women contested the elections.
The number of women in the elective offices in Bhutan, at present, indicates the low level of engagement of women in politics, which is of concern to many of the stakeholders of the Bhutanese democracy.
The report says that Bhutanese women’s participation in elective offices in the Local Governments is presently deemed as being inadequate for which a number of measures to address them have been advocated by numerous individuals, interest groups, and also by the current elected national government.
In the Dzongkhag Thromde Tshogde elections, out of the total of 34 candidates nominated for the post of Thromde Tshogde Tshogpa in the 4 Dzongkhag Thromdes, 7 of them were female candidates, while only one female candidate was nominated out of the total of 10 candidates for the post of Thrompon in the elections.
The report also highlights that first ever Local Government Elections conducted in 2011 under the Democratic Constitutional Monarchy in Bhutan, only a single woman was ever elected for the post of Gup and 12 of them for the post of Mangmi in all of 205 Gewogs.
It also says women are underrepresented as candidates, with the post of Gewog Tshogpa and Dzongkhag Thromde Thuemi to the Dzongkhag Tshogdu in the Local Government Elections 2011 going to men. Therefore, the numbers clearly demonstrate the need to target the under-representation of women in various elective offices in Bhutan. For instance, 159 of them were women out of the total of 1,443 candidates nominated for the post of Gewog Tshogpa, and only 3 candidates were nominated for the post of Dzongkhag Thromde Thuemi to Dzongkhag Tshogdu.
Many of the female respondents, 59%, in the study point to different factors involved in motivating the voters to vote in the elections, such as influence or being inspired by their family members and friends. However, in terms of making a decision in regard to elections, majority of the voters have a high degree of control over the decision as to whom to vote in an election.
“Competence of a candidate is the main factor that influences majority of the voter’s decision. The voters are also more likely to support a candidate who is highly qualified and who is willing to work for the larger interest of the people and the country,” states the report.
The report also states the ECB has been subjected to undue criticisms for not doing enough to address the issue of the Bhutanese women’s low political participation. Therefore, it was in view of these considerations that the ECB undertook a scientific study to understand the determinants of voter’s choice and how best to facilitate women’s participation in elective offices.