As far as the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is concerned, it is fully prepared for the up-coming Third Local Government (LG) Election. The elections for Gups, Mangmis and Tshogpas will take place on 22 December 2021.
The preparations were done based on the earlier experiences since 2008, and on the experiences gained while conducting an election during the lockdown under the pandemic situation.
With all the feedback from the officials and the stakeholders, ECB is confident about managing the up-coming LG Election, especially if the situation remains stable as it is now.
Keeping in mind the risk of COVID-19 pandemic, ECB has come up with various initiatives to maintain the strict pandemic protocols.
Director of the Secretariat Service Department at ECB, Phub Dorji, said that to minimize the crowding during the poll day at the polling stations (PS), ECB has opened up the Postal Ballot (PB) services for all the eligible voters.
“In the past, those in civil service and private employees who have to travel to respective dzongkhags for voting were given PB services. Now, anyone can register for PB so that they need not have to go to their respective demkhongs to vote,” he added.
In the past, physical voting was encouraged. As of 1 November 2021, more then 118,500 eligible voters (including voters abroad) have registered for PB, and to further encourage more number of voters, ECB has extended the date of PB registration until 10 November.
In addition, to reduce the risk and to mitigate the pandemic, he also said that they will now allow voters to vote with just their citizenship ID card. In the past elections, the voters had to compulsorily carry their Voter Photo Identity Card (VPIC) card to cast their votes.
“This will reduce overcrowding in election offices across the country. If they are asked to bring their VPIC along their CID, like in the past, they will then visit respective election offices to produce the card, and this will cause crowding which would increase the risk of pandemic,” he said.
This initiative aims to reduce the movement of people. If not, by this time, the election offices will be filled with people asking for VPIC. ECB is not issuing VPIC unless it is necessary, he added.
“This will not let anyone miss the opportunity to cast their votes. This will also encourage people to not move around. This way the risk during the pandemic will be reduced,” he said.
There is an Electro Roll to cross check the list of voters. The voters will need to have either CID card or VPIC during the poll day. Otherwise one will not be entertained to cast their votes.
He further said that for voters above the age of 60 years, facilities of a mobile facilitation booth will be provided. They will not have to come to PS to cast their votes but the officials will go door-to-door to get their votes.
Meanwhile, he said, “Though there is no provision in law asking to support women or disabled people in elections in extra way, we always encourage women and people with disability to come forward through various initiatives.”
With each election, he said that the number of women’s participation is increasing and it may keep increasing in future elections as with various awareness programs, and acceptance by the society. But still, in absolute numbers, the women’s participation is far below, he added.
Dhamngoi Zomdu has started already. ECB will have the final list of candidates who will be participating in elections by 23 November.
As a part of preparations, ECB has conducted one round of Training of Trainers (ToT) in 17 dzongkhags. The training for the three high-risk areas was done virtually. They have also completed the voter education. In addition, ECB has also trained Returning Officers (RO) and National Observers (NO).
The COVID-19 protocols will be followed as directed by the health ministry throughout the election period.