Given the enthusiasm the political campaigns have whipped up, the upcoming general round of parliamentary elections is expected to see an increased voter turnout.
The Election Commission is optimistic that more people would vote this time. Since the general round is about electing a government, more people, the commission believes, would want to have a say in its election. Unlike the primaries, officials said that people are definite that one of the two parties contesting the general round would form the government.
Another reason for increased voter turnout could be because the people would be voting for the candidate and not the party. Election officials said people care for the candidate and this could translate into increased voter turnout.
But one of the major factors to enhance voter turnout this round could be the service of postal ballot facilitation booths the commission operates for three days across the country.
“We received calls from people to make changes to their registration details so that they could participate in the general round,” the commission’s spokesperson Sonam Tobgyal said.
Sonam Tobgay said the commission also expects higher voter turnout because during common forums, election officials brief the voters on the importance of participating in the general round.
“The two parties are also urging people to come out and vote and because of these four reasons, we expect a higher voter turn out,” he said.
The first parliamentary elections in 2008 saw a voter turnout of 79.38 percent at the national assembly general elections, the highest so far. In 2013, the second parliamentary elections saw a drop in the voter turnout with the primary round seeing a voter turn out of 55.27 percent and the general election, 66.13 percent.
In the primary round of the third parliamentary elections last month, the voter turn out was 66.36 percent.
Supporting the commission’s optimism on a higher voter turn out this time is the GNH survey report, 2015 where most people reported to have voted in the assembly elections more than the other elections.
The survey found that of the three different elections, maximum reported having voted in the national assembly elections at 78.2 percent followed by the national council elections at 76.2 percent. Of the three elections, the local government or thromde elections saw the least participation in terms of voter turnout at 64.6 percent.
“When asked, will you participate in the next general election (through voting)?, an overwhelming majority, 91.2 percent reported that they will participate in the next general election,” the survey report states.
It reported that 3.28 percent were undecided to vote and 2.76 percent reported that they couldn’t vote. The remaining 2.76 percent reported that they would not participate.
About 23.74 percent of the people stated their inability to trust politicians as a reason behind their intention to avoid voting in the next general election, followed by 17.90 percent stating their lack of interest in politics and 14.90 percent stating the polling stations being too far.
The survey also found that taking into account the last (2013) national assembly election, the proportion of population who did not vote is higher in the urban areas at 20.7 percent compared to the rural areas at 11.6 percent. A slightly lower proportion of males (13.1%) did not vote compared to females (15.4%).
Expectations on increased voter turnout however, vary in the dzongkhags.
With the Dassain festival scheduled right after the poll day on October 18, Samtse for instance is expecting a higher voter turnout this time.
In the primary round, the dzongkhag, which has the second highest number of registered voters in the country, saw a voter turnout of 60.3 percent, the least among the dzongkhags.
Samtse’s election officer Tshering Phuntsho said he is expecting a turnout of 75 percent in the upcoming election. “It is mainly because people have the notion that this round of election is a more important election,” he said. “Voter turnout would increase.”
A Dophuchen resident Nobchey Doya said that many people refer the primary round and general round as small and big voting times. “They consider general elections important,” he said. “Numbers will increase this time.”
Party supporters are also hopeful that voter turnout would increase this general election.
A DPT coordinator from Dophuchen, Traley Dukpa said people did not turn up for many reasons in the primary round of election.
“There are many people across the country that are not civil servants and cannot avail postal ballot and facilitation booth services,” he said, adding that this affected the turnout. Many people work in the private sector and their owners wouldn’t allow them leave easily, he said and many would not spend to travel afar to cast their vote.
In Trashigang, the dzongkhag with the highest number of registered voters, election officials are also expecting a higher voter turn out. The dzongkhag saw a voter turn of 66.3 percent in the primaries.
They say voter turnout should increase because the confusion over being registered as a postal ballot voter and facilitation booth voter has been resolved. Their briefing to the people during the common forum gatherings on the importance of the general round is likely to persuade the people to come and vote.
But unlike the officials, a resident in Pam, Trashigang Sangay is not as hopeful. He believes that those who didn’t vote during the primary round are likely to abstain from voting this time. “The reason why they didn’t vote before is because they are least bothered. I see no reason for them to change their mind e.”
Another resident said that the number could in fact decrease. “Those whose party got eliminated in the first round may not vote for either of the current parties,” he said. “Their conscience and loyalty for their own party wouldn’t allow them to favour either of the parities.”
Some say that the number could remain the same if not decrease this time because the responsibility of voting is not mandatory. “People don’t take this responsibility seriously,” a voter said. “There are limitations to private employees to register for postal ballot if their organisation is not recognised by ECB and voting becomes an expensive affair if one has to travel from Thimphu to Trashigang for just one vote.”
Additional reporting by Rajesh Rai in Samtse and Younten Tshedup in Trashigang