The process of casting votes through postal ballots, while deemed by many as a convenient way to exercise one’s own franchise, is at the same time, the only set mode for a section of people mandated to stay apolitical.
Many in the civil service feel the government servants should be given equal opportunities to attend campaigns, common forums, and national debates so that they get a chance to interact and know their candidate’s capabilities. Nevertheless, equally discerning views are offered by citizens on the postal ballot facilities to be extended to as many quarters as possible.
According to prevailing election rules, most civil servants can cast votes through postal ballots, while a few of the civil servants also vote in person on poll day. But those refrained from attending forums and debates, due to their apolitical status say they are deprived of the chance to really get to know their candidates and judge his or her capabilities.
The different candidates of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are currently engaged in their campaigning tours, while at the same time, the public debates and common forums are on-going in the constituencies.
A civil servant currently working in one of the ministries, Sonam Darjay (name changed upon request), thinks casting vote through the postal ballot saves time and money and does ‘keep government officials apolitical.’ He, however, questioned on the effectiveness of simply voting for a candidate or a party without having availed an opportunity to gauge parties and respective candidate through their campaigns, public debates, and common forums in person.
“For me this is not a problem as the Nanong-Shumar constituency candidate is very well-known since he is the former PM, and by association his opponent receives a share of the spotlight,” said Sonam Darjay.
An employee in a private firm, Dawa Norbu thinks the postal ballot is very important as more votes can be cast through it, given the nature of convenience it offers.
At the same time, he feels that there is a need to extend such voting facility to more number of people, besides the ones that have already been identified to receive the facility. The reason, he said, is because people should meet, greet and scrutinize the politicking lot before just handing over their precious votes.
“Common forum is an important platform for parties involved to showcase their intelligence and worthiness, but candidates are currently busy attacking each other and people don’t get to take home any solid views on their future respected MPs,” he added.
On apolitical bodies Dawa Norbu said it’s good that there is a standing rule that does not allow people from these institutions to participate directly in politics.
“Campaigns and debates are directly related to politics and they should be restricted for all times from them,” said Dawa.
On the contrary, a fellow private employee has a different take on this issue.
“We think too much and feel too little, like machines. We need more of human touch and less of cleverness, we need to judge and witness kindness and gentleness personally,” said Kinley Dorji, currently working as a teacher in Paro.
The teacher form Paro said civil servants send in their postal ballots to respective constituencies much before time arrives for the poll day, while candidates are still campaigning and speaking in common forums and engaging in debates long after the postal ballots are already cast.
He feels this robs them of opportunities to effectively judge parties and candidates.
“If certain changes are not made in these rules, Bhutan will taste the bitter experience of democracy and not enjoying the sweeter fruits of democracy,” he added.
A civil servant under anonymity from Ugyentse constituency said all the party workers attending the forum are defaming one another and it is very unhealthy turn of events.
“If the ‘apolitical people’ are allowed to attend such forums than I believe the forum would be much healthier and informative to people in their ‘educated’ presence,” he added.
In addition, he said the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) needs to conduct the forums a bit earlier and set the deadline for postal ballots only after forum are finished.
This is a view rested on a premise much supported by others in the same situations. And the area of mutual understanding among them is that ‘even apolitical bodies’ constitute of people who are the citizens and who need to vote for the candidates and parties that they support.
The technologically-inclined people, on the other hand, put all the arguments to rest as they feel there is no need to personally interact, travel the distance, and waste time when one can simply switch on the TV and watch the parties and candidates being showcased or turn on a radio or otherwise pick up a newspaper to read and pick up the issues.
“People are aware of their respective candidates through media and BBS TV and campaigning is solely for introducing party manifestos,” Rinzen Norbu from Paro said.
“Postal Ballots is the easiest way to cast vote and effective too. People shouldn’t undermine it, in any manner,” he added.
Sangay Choda/ Thimphu