No religious events after January 2023

Dechen Dolkar 

It is the annual choku or lochoe (an event to appease the local protective deities) season in western Bhutan. In normal times, it’s the local astrologer who decides when to conduct the choku.

With the National Council elections around, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has intervened. The Commission notified that social and religious events may be conducted until the end of January next year.

The NC’s term ends on May 9, 2023 because it had its first sitting and elected its Chairperson and deputy chairperson on May 10, 2018.

Article 11 of the Constitution of Bhutan under section 4 states that at the first sitting after any National Council election, or when necessary to fill a vacancy, the National Council will elect a Chairperson and deputy chairperson from among its members.

This means the ECB will have to finish the NC election process before the end of the current council’s five-year term. The new council should be reconstituted by May 10, 2023.

The notification states that there is widespread confusion about whether social and religious events can be conducted or not in the period leading up to the NC elections 2023.

The ECB mentions that in the event there are religious or social events planned from February to May 2023, all are requested to either prepone or defer them, with the exception of annual dzongkhag tshechus.

Locally called so-choe (spring religious events), villagers in the Wang and Shar regions conduct religious events. However, it is not as grand as the ser-choe (religious events in autumn) and there are not many gatherings.

ECB also stated that from the date of issuance of notification calling the National Council Elections, 2023, all social and religious activities will be closely monitored by the Dzongkhag Election Authorities.

However, in the event of other annual calendar events or compelling needs, institutions or individuals concerned must submit applications and obtain approval.

In the case of such compelling situations, the institution/individual concerned shall seek approval from the respective Dzongkhag Election Authority.

The Dzongkhag Chief Election Coordinator will review the applications, on a case-by-case basis, and accord a decision, as deemed necessary.

The ECB has also directed aspiring NC candidates to start processing the requisite documents from the relevant agencies. ECB has conducted seminars for aspiring candidates. Out of 129 aspiring candidates registered, 100 attended the seminar last month.