And where does this leave the private sector and other EVM voters
One of the biggest revelations of the 2018 Primary round results was the decisive impact of the postal votes in deciding which of the two parties would make it to the final round.
The EVM votes had PDP in the first place with 56,180 votes, DNT in second place with 55,166 votes and DPT in third place with 53,108 votes. The EVM votes were competitive with a difference of around 3,000 to 2,000 votes only.
However, postal votes changed the overall results as it went overwhelmingly in favour of DNT and DPT. As a result, DNT came number one with 37,556 postal votes, DPT came number two with 36,912 postal votes and finally PDP came third with only 23,703 postal votes.
Of the 133,795 registered postal voters 108,580 voted meaning a postal voters’ turnout of 81.15 percent. By comparison, of the registered 304,868 EVM voters 182,518 voters showed up with a turnout of 59.86 percent.
Of the total voter turnout of 291,098 the postal voters comprised a huge 37.30 percent of the total votes.
To put it into perspective, the front runner DNT got 31.85 percent of the total votes. So if postal voters were a political party then it would have come first with 37.30 percent of the votes.
This means that government employees and their family dependents who are all eligible to postal ballots or postal facilitation booths are now in the position to make or break governments.
The estimated math is pretty simple. There are 27,000 civil servants and around 7,000 government corporate employees coming to a total of 34,000 public servants. Even if each public employee had two additional postal votes facility for two dependents then that would be around 68,000 dependents.
Combine the two numbers and the total would be around 102,000 postal voters who are either working for the government or those who are dependent on them. So even if an approximate 22,000 are deducted due to some not using postal ballots or not having dependents then the numbers is still sizeable at around 80,000.
This is compared to only 12,111 armed forces postal voters, 3,568 overseas postal voters, unspecified numbers of students and members of the hotel and tourism industry.
The other important issue is not only about the large numbers but also the fact that postal voters, due to the ease of voting, have naturally much higher turnout as shown above. This is a big boost to the value of their total votes.
Political parties, even before the 2018 primary rounds were well aware of the impact that postal voters and in particular government employees were going to have.
This is why all the four parties had promised pay hikes and other goodies for civil servants. This is keeping in mind that any pay hike in the civil service is automatically followed in the government corporate sector.
However, the impact of the postal ballots in even changing the total EVM results have led to political parties to realize that their political future can be decided by public servants.
In one of the great ironies of Bhutanese democracy the political future of political parties are now in the hands of the very machinery that is supposed to execute their political vision and be accountable to them.
This has also raised questions from the private sector of why a similar facility of postal voting cannot be extended to them as many of them face similar problems like civil servants in working away from their constituencies. Though larger in number with around 110,000 Bhutanese working in the private sector under 60,000 business licenses, most of them and their family members are EVM voters.
The DNT President Dr Lotay Tshering, whose party got the largest postal votes said, “I feel that postal voting is very important to increase turnout and make it convenient for voters to vote. It also saves transportation costs.”
At the same time the DNT President said, “It is also equally important that the ECB must reach and extend this facility to the private sector and all others who require postal voting as every vote is important.”
The President said that given the impact of the postal votes on the primary round results, the commitments of the political parties would become more focused on postal voters. He said to prevent this, the facility should be extended to the private sector and all others who are in need of this facility.
The DPT General Secretary Sangay Phurba said that apart from government employees ECB, this time around, had extended the facility to hotels and the tourism sector.
He said, “Our democracy is young and there is no need to rush and give postal facilities to all the people as people should have a connection and ownership with the polling station.”
Sangay Phurba said that in the present scenario the private sector has enough time to go and vote and voting is anyhow not compulsory.
However, even the DPT Secretary General admitted that given the huge impact of the postal votes in the 2018 primary rounds, political parties would be very careful when making their manifestos in relation to postal voters.
The BCCI President Aum Phub Zam on behalf of the private sector called upon the ECB to also extend the postal voting facility to the private sector.
“ECB should ensure a level playing field and instead of giving this facility mostly to civil servants, it should also be given to the private sector otherwise the parties will focus their pledges more on government employees and less on the private sector,” she said.
She said that the job of the ECB is to ensure a higher voter turnout and make it convenient for Bhutanese voters to vote and so it makes sense to bring in the private sector too. She said that postal votes for the private sector would save time and transportation costs.
The BCCI President said that it is inconvenient for many businesses to completely shut down and go to vote in their constituencies. She pointed out that while government employees would still get their salary, any shut down by businesses would mean loss of revenue on a daily basis.
She pointed out that while civil servants are serving the country the private sector also serves the country by paying all kind taxes and providing employment. She pointed out that a large portion of the civil service pay, in fact, comes from taxes on the private sector.
The President said that one excuse that would come up from the authorities would be the Election Act but she said laws cannot remain static and should change.
She also said that when laws are being drafted the private sector should be consulted instead of civil servants within the government coming up with laws that look at their own convenience without considering the private sector.
She said that while everyone says the private sector is the engine of growth most graduates want to join the government due to better facilities. “This postal voting becomes one more additional incentive to join the government and not the private sector,” she said.
The ECB spokesperson and head of the department of election Sonam Tobgyal said that the ECB has been learning from every election and also hears the views of different stakeholders.
He said that given that the election process is still going on the ECB cannot make any concrete commitments right now as it may impact sentiments but it would look into the issue in the future based on the electoral laws.
Sonam also pointed out that electoral laws can only be amended by the Parliament.
He pointed out that the ECB, this time around, extended the postal voters facility to the hotel and tourism sector which are service sectors and cannot do without its employees. He also said that some manufacturing factories with very large numbers of employees were also given the facility.