All local leaders elected during the second local government elections in 2016 will vacate their office today. 

According to the Election Act 2008, the local government (LG) would be reconstituted within 90 days after the end of the tenure. As the ECB gears up  for the conduct of the third LG elections, it has notified that informal campaigning before the announcement of the election date is prohibited. This comes after some aspiring candidates were found doing so even before the incumbents completed their terms.

The commission notified that such campaigns violate electoral laws and shall be dealt as per the electoral laws. The notice was necessary. However, the bigger task is to monitor on the ground which will be no easy feat given that many individuals solicit support through family members in informal social media groups and word of mouth. 

There will be inconveniences too. The ECB has denied requests to conduct training, seminars, surveys, research, and similar activities in the coming months before the election. The Commission is of the view that such activities would not only become a source of distraction for local authorities in the dzongkhags during the election period,  but could also hinder free and fair elections. 

Winter is an opportune time to train teachers after schools break for vacations. The education system has introduced numerous changes be it assessment or curriculum. If the elections are not held before the schools are closed for winter vacation, the ECB’s order is going to create problems for the training programmes. 

Going by the turnout for the functional literacy test, there is no dearth of aspiring candidates. A total of 2,195 eligible persons, including 372 women, sat the Functional Literacy Test. For the first time, five citizens living with disabilities, including three men, appeared for the Dzongkha language competency test. 

But how much have we done to encourage the participation of women? The few incumbent women leaders in the gewogs have proven that they were equally, if not more capable than the male gups, to shoulder the responsibilities.  The pandemic has prevented NGOs and agencies from reaching out to the gewogs to train and encourage women to contest in the elections. With many women being laid off in the tourism and hospitality sector there would be no shortage of candidates.  

How would we fare in terms of voter turnout? The second local government (LG) election in 2016 saw 55.8 percent voter turnout, which was a slight decrease from 56.23 percent in the first LG election. Exemptions on quarantine seem impossible, so voters need options to vote, simple and easy ones. In the past five years, many reached the eligible age to vote. Their needs for voting education have to be met too. Otherwise, the turnout could suffer if voting remains a cumbersome experience.