Not because of the tone of the commission’s response but because the issues merited further deliberation

Election: The National Council will move a motion to amend the Election Act 2008 in the summer session of the parliament next year.

The house of review’s decision comes after the Election Commission responded its inability to implement three of the seven recommendations the Council passed in its last session.

One of the Council’s recommendations was that the ‘ECB shall make provisions for voting from place of residence especially in large population centres.’ It reasoned that in view of the decreasing election turnout, coming up with such measures is inevitable.

The former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dasho Kunzang Wangdi wrote to the Council’s Chairperson stating that if the government finances the cost and makes the resources and infrastructure available, the commission could go for online voting options from the place of residence and convenience.

“It may be noted that the Parliament shot down the biometric project, which could have facilitated the option for residential voting,” the former commissioner said in his response. “While we agree fully with the benefits, it is also equally important to ensure that election results would be trustworthy and procedures reliable and legal.”

Council members expressed dissatisfaction to the response from the commission.

Chairperson Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga said the response was totally opposite.

“While we recommended implementing residential voting, the response was on online voting and the tone and nuances were inappropriate of the correspondence exchanged between two high offices,” he said.

The second recommendation was to do away with campaign banners in elections to cut costs.

CEC Dasho Kunzang Wangdi wrote that ECB was happy to discontinue posters and banners if candidates and political parties agreed. “However, unless the National Council or Parliament issues specific instructions to discontinue banners for political campaign, the political parties will also have to be consulted,” he said.

Bumthang Councillor Nima said that if the commission felt that the issue merited consultation with political parties, then they should have done that and responded to the Council with the results. “Instead, they asked for specific instruction from the house.”

On the Council’s resolution that the ECB shall accept the university degree of candidates, once attested by the Royal University of Bhutan, the former CEC wrote, “Why do we not waive qualification for all jobs which are less critical than the post of MPs, the highest law and policy makers…?”

The laws are very clear, he added, on the legal right of the returning officer to have the final say to accept or reject the nomination.

“RUB is no more the competent authority for attesting the formal university degree attestation, works are now taken over by Bhutan Accreditation Council under the Department of Adult and Higher Education,” he said. ECB would attest the certificates as per its revised guidelines.

The committee’s chairperson Jigme Wangchuk said the Council could have included these recommendations while amending the Election Act in 2012.

“Then, commission officials said those elements would be covered by rules and regulations, so in good faith we withheld any change anticipating their inclusion later in the rules and other guidelines,” the Samdrupjongkhar Councillor said. “And now they refused to accept the recommendations. There is no other way left for us to address these issues.”

Members of the house including the chairperson were quick to point out that the decision to amend the act is not to take revenge against the commission for not accepting their recommendations.

The Council had also recommended prohibiting door-to-door campaigning for all elections. However, the commission said that it would be non-democratic.

The other recommendations were on the number of party workers a party can have, permissibility of the door-to-door campaigning, extended common forum and delimitation of demkhongs (constituencies).

The ad-hoc committee comprising of eight members who reviewed the response from the Election Commission proposed for the amendment.

The decision came through with 14 Yes votes of the 22 members present. However, in a show of hands before the electronic voting, only 12 members agreed with the committee’s recommendation of amendment. Councillors from Paro, Chukha, Mongar, Lhuentse, including the two eminent members present were among those not supporting the amendment.

No sooner did he announce the result than the chairperson apologised for the lapse in procedure. The endorsement of the recommendation to become a resolution needed to be passed through a secret electronic voting.

Trongsa, Wangdue, and Paro councillors asked the house to explore other measures before resorting to amending the Act.

Paro Councillor Kaka Tshering said the commission had some misunderstanding on the issues, which could be sorted out mutually.

“Amendment should be the last resort and we should exhaust all means,” he said.

The Council having deliberated the issue over the past year had come to the final session yesterday where they were to make a decision. It decided to amend the act.

By Tshering Palden