With about 97,873 Bhutanese electorates registered as postal voters through facilitation booths, the voting for the primary round election through the service has started yesterday and will be operational till Sunday, 9th September 2018.
A voter, Leki Wangmo in her early twenties from Zhemgang said that it is her first time voting through the facility. “Although it is not my first time voting, It is my first time voting through facilitation booth and it is very convenient. Earlier we had to travel all the way to our place even if we wanted to vote, but it is much easier and convenient these days through such service.” She added that she voted after taking the candidate’s potential into consideration after repeatedly watching the debates on television, and she said she did not let anyone influence her decision.
In a long-standing queue dominated mostly by middle-aged women in one of the booths located in the capital, with very few elderly voters and not a single male voter near sight, a 50-year-old Karma Wangzom from Samdrup Jongkhar said, “I voted for the party that pledged to introduce road connectivity and promised to bring several other important developments in my village. I am glad I could franchise my right without being influenced by friends or my close relations. I came to know about the candidates and parties mostly through BBS. I found the facilitation booth service very convenient compared to voting through the EVMs which I find it a bit confusing.
For 21-years-old Choden, who voted for the first time in her life said that she was actually very undecided at the last moment and didn’t know who to vote for. “People have been stressing on the importance of voting, so I came to vote after discussing with my friends and voted for the party they suggested is good. Although it is my first time, I personally feel that the process was not very complicated.”
According to the head of department of election and media spokesperson, Sonam Tobgyal, said that the facility to vote through the facilitation booth without having to travel to one’s native place has received overwhelming and positive responses from the general public during the National Council which has resulted in the increase in the number of postal voters opting for facilitation booth service rather than the conventional postal ballot.
“We have established 65 facilitation booths in all the 20 dzongkhags to cater to the need of the voters. And on the same day, mobile facilitation booths, which are aimed at catering to the special needs postal voters, will also be operational for three days. There are 4658 registered special needs postal voters for the primary round,” said Sonam Tobgyal.
Although there has been no issue reported in regard to the postal ballot facilitation booths so far from prior experiences, Sonam Tobgyal said that the Commission has well-planned mechanisms in place to address should any issue arise during the three-day voting period through such facilities.
He said that the Returning Officers are responsible for the operation and functioning of the postal ballot facilitation booths under their assigned jurisdiction, who will also ensure that the materials are received on time and officials are well-trained and appointed.
“The postal voters, who have opted to vote at the postal ballot facilitation booth must turn up at the booth of their convenience indicated during registration anytime from 9 am to 7 pm from 7th to 9th September for the primary round along with their VPIC as proof of identification and CID as supporting document should any issue arise with their VPIC,” said Sonam Tobgyal.
The voting timings have been extended during the NA elections for the voters availing the postal ballot facilitation booths as compared to the 9 am to 5 pm during the National Council elections for the convenience of the employed individuals and to decongest the booths as far as possible by avoiding overcrowding.
In terms of postal facilitation booth, the highest voters will be voting in Thimphu and consist of 35,551 postal facilitation booth voters of the total 97,870 postal facilitation booth voters. The second highest is at Chukha with 12,651.
Journalists from neighboring countries have been taking keen interest in the political developments of Bhutan and they have already started publishing comparative analysis on the four parties and on Bhutan’s upcoming National Assembly elections. However, the ECB mandates that the foreign journalists wishing to cover the election must follow the procedures in place by putting up a written application to the Commission, from whence the authorities will scrutinize the application and forward it to the foreign ministry. After the necessary verification by the foreign ministry, the foreign media or the journalist needs to be duly accredited by the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) after signing an undertaking.
So far, a handful of foreign journalists have put up applications with the Commission for the primary round- although the numbers are expected to soar once Bhutan enter the general round of election.
During the Second Parliamentary Elections 2013, 19 foreign media personnel from India, Netherlands, South Korea and Nepal were in the country to cover the general elections besides other media agencies resorting to electronic means to seek information on Bhutan’s election.