With the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) rolling out the third National Council (NC) election schedule on February 15, Bhutan has entered a busy election year.

The NC elections, which will be held on April 20, will be followed by the third National Assembly elections towards the end of the year.

The house of review will complete its term in the second week of May 2018 and a new house is expected to be in place the day after the expiry of the term. The Assembly will dissolve in August.

Assuming that the prime minister does not dissolve the Assembly prematurely, elections could be held in October 2018.

The ECB had officially shifted its focus to the parliamentary elections by marking voters’ day on September 15 last year.

Awareness programmes on the election process have been taken to every dzongkhag. The ECB is hoping for increased voter turnout in the elections that will mark the completion of 10 years of democracy.

Awareness programmes, the ECB says, are important to renew electorate’s commitment to a vibrant democracy as envisioned by the visionary monarchs and enshrined in the Constitution. Accordingly, to enthuse the citizenry and encourage the electorate to engage meaningfully in the democratic process has been one of the core mandates of the ECB.

The ECB conducted seminars for aspiring NC candidates on the whole electoral process. Some 172 aspiring candidates have registered with the ECB to contest the NC elections.

The year also saw two new aspiring parties – Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa and Druk Gaki Tshogpa.

Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa’s application was denied by the commission in July citing lack of leadership in the group. A former civil servant Jime Drukpa initiated the party.

Druk Gaki Tshogpa filed its papers for registration on February 9. If the ECB accepts the registration the total number of political parties will reach six.

The party’s promoter Chheku Dukpa, popular as Jackson Dukpa on social media, is hopeful that his party will secure registration. Some 64 members and supporters had gathered at its first convention in January.

Delimitation Plan Endorsed

A delimitation commission in December 2017 endorsed a draft delimitation plan keeping the present 47 Assembly seats and constituency boundaries unchanged for another 10 years.

Six dzongkhags – Mongar, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, Sarpang, Thimphu, and Wangdue – proposed to the delimitation commission for additional Assembly constituencies during the public hearing on the draft delimitation plan.

The Constitution allows carving out of up to seven constituencies in a dzongkhag.

The delimitation commission decided that the request for additional constituencies did not meet the general requirement going by the Delimitation of Demkhong Rules and Regulations. The next delimitation exercise will be due in 2027, only after which additional constituencies could be carved out. A delimitation exercise is carried out every 10 years.

Children’s Parliament Stays

The National Assembly in December 21 last year decided to continue with the Bhutan Children’s Parliament, an initiative of the ECB, although Opposition members argued in favour of scrapping it.

The government argued that the children’s parliament should be continued for educational purposes and advocacy on democracy. The opposition stated that it could politicize the education system.

The National Council in June 2017 also raised questions on the legality of the children’s parliament. The Council had cautioned that the institutionalisation of the children’s parliament could lead to politicisation of the education system.

The children’s parliament, according to ECB, will train children to be future leaders. Members of the children’s parliament are members of school-based democracy clubs.

As part of its reform initiatives, the election commission introduced a new postal voting system that will enable postal voters, their spouses and dependents to vote in person from their dzongkhag of residence.

About eight days prior to the poll day in the upcoming parliament elections, the ECB will set up polling booths for postal voters in dzongkhags

MB Subba