NC Candidates debate during the Samtse Common Forum

Graduates, private sector and men in 30’s make up bulk of NC aspirants

Dhamngoi Zomdu turnout at 14.65 % of total voter population

The National Council aspirants for the 2018 Parliamentary Election have increased to a record high of 127 candidates compared to just 67 in 2013.

This batch of NC comes with diverse qualification and work experiences. Out of the 127 NC candidates, 31 aspirants hold a master’s degree, two candidates hold a doctorate, 8 with LLB/ LLM degrees and the rest 86 holds the mandated bachelor’s degree.

The candidates prior to announcing their candidature held various positions in the government and the private sector.

The majority of the candidates fall under the bracket of private employees and businessmen who dominated the list with around 27 candidates from the group. This in part could be due to the fact that unlike civil servants and public servants they can go back to their old professions even after losing. There are seven candidates from the tourism sector in this lot.

The second highest group of candidates coming to around 19 come from various branches of the government. Of this group the biggest is from the teaching background with 12 of them who either served as teachers or lecturers. Other government related people are 1 from Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital, 3 forestry officers, 1 from ACC and 2 Gewog Administrative Officers.

There are five candidates from media background all of whom claim that their media experience in covering the Parliamentary process and other areas would also make them good candidates.

Among others there are 3 from the legal field, 3 from IT Park, 2 educated farmers and others from corporate, NGO and other backgrounds.

The mix also includes four former NA candidates and two  former NC members (2008-13).

With Bhutan being a young country it is not surprising to note that more than half of the ambitious aspirants, which make up 74 candidates fall within the tricenarian group (aged 30-39), 19 aspirants are in their forties, 18 aspirants are in their mid-twenties and 16 of them in their fifties.

A total of 63,216 voters turned up during the nomination process from all the dzongkhags which comprises just over 14.65 percent of the total eligible voter population in the country. Even with such a statistic there has been higher enthusiasm and interest from voters compared to previous NC elections.  A higher voter turnout is expected during the poll day on the 20th of April.

Tshering Penjor, the Returning Officer of Wangduephodrang, said that the voter turnout in the region has been positive during the dhamngoi zomdu. “Even if there were no candidates from some of the gewogs, we have seen voters showing interest in the nomination process. It is mainly the result of vigorous voter education we’ve been carrying out to the public. We try to make them realize every vote counts,” said Tshering Penjor. He also added that people are more aware about the huge expenses the government is incurring to conduct such election which instigates a sense of responsibility from their side as well.

The Southern region of the country, which hosts dzongkhags like Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang and Samdrup Jongkhar also saw positive voter turnouts during the nomination process. However, there were exceptions in certain areas as Dzongkhag Election Officer of Dagana said that the voter turnout has been low during the dhamngoi process in Dagana. “In some of cases there was only one voter turning up for the election. We are trying every possible measure to encourage and increase the voter turnout for the poll day. We are expecting almost 70 percent voter turnout during the poll day,” said the officer,

Like wise the sparsely populated northern part of the country, where Gasa Dzongkhag is located, also saw satisfactory voter turnout during the dhamngoi zomdu. The Returning Officer of the Dzongkhag said that the voters now have better understanding of the electoral processes unlike before and they take a keen interest in the NC elections.

“We’ve had people coming from as far as Thimphu to cast their votes during the nomination process. However, we’re quite worried about the weather during the common forum, whereby we fear that people from far flung places might not be able attend and it is also time of the year when the locals are busy with their farming activities. However, as per the interest and concern shown by the voters, we are expecting almost 90 percent voter turnout during the polls,” said the RO.

The women representation in the NC election still has a long way to see light at the end of the tunnel, despite encouragement and several initiatives by the government and various Non-Government Organizations.

There were only 8 women coming forward, out of which 6 made it through the nomination process. Ironically, out of the total number of voters who turned up for the Dhamngoi Zomdu, women voters were higher at 33,045 compared to 30,171 male voters.

This can also imply that although Bhutanese women have better understanding on the importance of their participation and the impact their votes can make, they are still apprehensive of coming forward and shouldering such national responsibilities. They are also apprehensive about supporting their own kind. Such consistently poor results for women may rekindle the debate of reservation of seats for women to participate in the politics to try and get over deeply patriarchal mindsets in society.

Among the 127 candidates contesting, 12 candidates are the serving National Council members vying for another five-year term.

The interest shown by 127 candidates show a deepening of democracy in Bhutan and increased awareness on the importance of elected posts and the NC in particular.

At the same time the NC candidates will be getting an enviable pay package and benefits. A NC MP will get Nu 123,213 month in pay and various allowances per month, Nu 1 mn to buy a car, a vehicle quota going up to a Prado and a Nu 100,000 per year of discretionary allowance. There is also a Nu 5,000 one time lump sum to buy a phone.

If the MP decides to buy a Prado, he or she would be saving around Nu 3 mn in taxes. This quota is also worth Nu 1.5 mn to Nu 2 mn in the unofficial and unauthorized vehicle quota market. This is apart from the patang, kabney and other protocol related perks. Though not authorized the NC MPs also get an unofficial ‘Dasho’ title that stays with them even after losing the post.

With less than 19 days to head for the NC polls, the 127 aspirants are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to convince the people from their respective dzongkhags to vote for them either by the conventional approach of door to door campaign or by flooding their manifestos in the media outlets and social media platforms for wider reach.

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