The third National Council election was one of the most actively participated council elections the country saw since its transition into a constitutional democracy a decade ago.
It saw the highest number of candidates, 127 contesting the elections and a record voter turn out of 234,535 voters choosing the 20 council-elects. That’s an average of 11,726 voters a candidate, up from 8,578 in 2013.
Breaking precedent, this election saw more male voters participating in the process even though female outnumbered male registered voters. The country saw 118, 726 male voters participate against 115, 809 female voters.
This change could be due to the huge difference between the male and female registered conventional postal voters. Of the 28,325 registered postal voters, 7,463 were female and 20,862 male. The number of female voters walking to the polling stations to vote through the electronic voting machine was 89,316, which was 5.31 percent higher than male voters. Male voters also outnumbered female at the postal ballot facilitation and mobile booths.
As encouraging as this change may appear, this shift in voting pattern calls for a closer look. Since postal ballot facility is extended to occupational groups, the high number of registered postal voters shows that there are more females staying at home than in the institutions. With an important election coming up and as concerns about gender equality gaining momentum, efforts must be made to ensure that dependent female voters are extended this facility.
The election commission has stated that 275 postal ballots were reported as rejected during the counting. While commission officials confirm that this is the number of envelope B, records obtained from returning officers from across the dzongkhag show that a total of 2,548 ballots were rejected. This calls for some reflection because whether it was envelope A or B, the ballots were not counted. The commission could revisit why so many votes are still getting rejected.
Unlike in the last election, two female candidates were elected to the house of review this time. This shows that, just as incumbency, gender does not matter much when it comes to electing representatives. In 2013, the country elected six of the 14 incumbent members while this time five of the 12 incumbents were re-elected. In terms of percentage, 2013 re-elected more incumbent members. While this election was about change, it also saw Samdrupjongkhar reelect its candidate for the third time.
The election commission of Bhutan has attributed increased voter turnout to postal ballot facilitation and mobile booths that were set up across the country. The commission’s efforts to make the election an inclusive exercise deserve commendation and the work of the 6,000 officials who worked through the nights to ensure a free and fair election must be lauded.
The people have fulfilled their responsibility. It is now time for the elected to fulfill theirs.