With the third round of thromde election nearing, media and Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) have already initiated the discourse on it.
While issues of when the thromde election should be conducted, clarifications of legal provisions and which ministry the thromde should report to have come to the limelight again, there is no mention of the real issue of thromde election – the restriction imposed on voters.
In the past two thromde elections, only a handful of the four thromde’s residents elected the thrompon, making the mayor answerable to only a few of them. In Thimphu for example, 2,557 people of more than 120,000 residents voted for the thrompon in 2016. The voting percentage remains the same for the other three thromdes too.
With only a few months left for the upcoming election, the story will repeat, Thimphu will have about 8,000 registered voters against 125,000 residents, Gelephu with about 1,400 registered voters against 11,000 residents, Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar with about 900 registered voters against 27,880 and 10,000 residents. The number of people who will turn out to vote will only be half.
This is because our election laws and the Constitution restricts people, who live and work in the thromdes from voting for the thrompon and other thromde representatives if they do not have census in the municipality.
Section 100 of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 mandates a thromde election voter to be registered in the civil registry and have household number or civil registration in that town for not less than one year.
To have a household number or census in the town, the voter should own land or property, which impedes many residents. Many who own property do not have their census in thromde.
When the majority of thromde residents having no say in the election, issues remain the same. Thimphu residents are still grappling with problems that long existed – unplanned digging of roads, water shortage, garbage, sewerage, traffic congestion and parking issues.
Thimphu town has no adequate parks for our children and those into cycling has many stories of unsafe it is. Almost 17 years after the Thimphu Structure Plan (2003-2027) was supposedly introduced, we have not implemented much of the plan.
The global Covid-19 pandemic exposed how the lack of proper residential address with building and street names affected the delivery of essentials. It should have been put in place a long time ago.
It has now become imperative for our policymakers to revisit the legislations and allow residential voting, whereby people with property but without census in the constituency should be allowed to exercise their franchise.