Inclusive representation: five were persons with disabilities 

MB Subba 

A total of 2,195 eligible citizens appeared for the Functional Literacy Test (FLT) yesterday at 152 test centres across the country, ahead of the upcoming local government (LG) elections that will take place towards the end of the year.

According to a press release from the ECB, 1,823 of the candidates were male and 372 were female. 

As in the past, the test centres were taken to the gewog level to encourage people to take part in local government elections. A total of 3,637 individuals had registered for the test. 

For the first time, five citizens living with disabilities, of which three were male and two were female, appeared for the FLT. The ECB stated that they were also aspiring for candidacy in the upcoming LG elections.

The ECB stated that it barred individuals who turned up without Voter Photo Identity Card (VPIC) or Citizenship Identity Cards (CID) from sitting for the test. The candidates, ECB said, were notified ahead of time to come with the documents. 

The ECB conducted the written and VIVA-VOCE (oral) test portions on the same day in strict compliance with the Covid-19 health safety protocols. 

The FLT is conducted by ECB under Section 21(d) of the Election Act, which states: “A person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of a Local Government if he or she is functionally literate and possesses skills adequate to discharge his or her responsibilities as certified by the Election Commission of Bhutan or possessing a formal degree in the case of candidates for Thrompon.”

Aspiring candidates who possess FLT certificates, including those from the first LG elections, need not take the test again.

However, in view of increased powers and functions of local governments (LG), many, including local leaders, say that the standard of FLT should be upgraded as the Election Act does not prescribe any formal qualification. 

Another local leader said that a gup and mangmi should be able to read and understand government documents. He said that it was also important for local leaders to be literate in English, as not all documents are written in Dzongkha.

 ECB officials said that the present LG members will resign in the last week of October and the elections will be held on schedule with Covid-19 safety protocols. The LGs, as per the Election Act, should be reconstituted within 90 days from the date of their dissolution.

According to ECB, the standard operating procedure (SOP) that was implemented in the recent parliamentary by-elections and thromde elections would be followed.

Officials and close observers say that more aspiring local leaders are expected to take part in the upcoming LG elections than in the previous elections. One of the factors that is expected to increase the number of aspiring local leaders is the migration of many people to their villages amid the pandemic.

 Executive Director of the Centre for Local Governance and Research (CLGR), Tharchen, said in an earlier interview that incentives for local leaders are good enough to attract more educated and capable candidates than in the past elections.

“The pandemic has been good for LG elections, as we see many educated people back in the villages,” he said. He said that unlike in the past almost every chiwog is expected to have a candidate for the posts of gup and mangmi.

Observers said that it was also important for the ECB to create convenient mobile polling booths and facilitate a convenient postal ballot facility to increase voter turnout, as voter turnout in the past LG elections was low.

The voter turnout for the second LG election in 2016 was 55.8 percent, which was a slight decrease from 56.23 percent in the first LG election.

Observers say that the number of young and educated voters has increased over the past five years and that it is likely to have some impact in terms of who will be elected in the upcoming elections.

There are 205 gewogs and 1,044 chiwogs in the country. Elections of dzongkhag thromde thuemi of dzongkhag towns will also be held along with the gewog elections.

Edited by Tshering Palden