Legislative committee to submit a final report for adoption

NC: The National Council yesterday resolved that the election Act does not need an amendment to include the provision of it being a continuous house, since it was already stated in the National Council (amendment) bill, which the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) assured would be respected.

The National Council discussed election related issues and several provisions in the election rules, guidelines, and handbooks that were identified for improvement.

Council’s legislative committee presented its findings and recommendations on election related issues and provisions for the election rules, regulations, guidelines, and handbooks.

Legislative committee’s chairman, Kuenlay Tshering, said, as directed by the house during the last session, the committee consulted the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) on election related issues.

Kuenlay Tshering said the need to address election related issues and the improvement of the provisions were based on submissions made by people from various constituencies and also discussed in the dzongkhag tshogdus.

On the conduct of local government (LG) elections, the election Act states that ECB shall not later than 90 days before the date of the expiration of duration of a LG, announce the date on which the commission shall issue the notification calling the election, and setting the process of election in motion to ensure that each LG is reconstituted on the date of expiration of duration of the existing LG.

This, according to Kuenlay Tshering, was not in line with article 24 (5) of the Constitution.  On consultation with the chief election commissioner, Kuenlay Tshering said they were told that ECB had to look at it and appraise the issue if at all there is a need for judicial interpretation.

The council recommended ECB to look at section 196 and make necessary arrangements for conducting the 2016 LG elections.

The provisions that the legislative committee listed to be improved and incorporated in the election rules, guidelines and handbooks are number of tshogpas, door-to-door campaign, extended common forum, residential voting, small size of photo on electronic voting machines, posters and banners, postal ballots for highlanders and formal university degree, among others.

The committee proposed that a political party shall not appoint more than one tshogpa in every gewog or chiwog, forbid door-to-door election campaigns, extend common forums to as many chiwogs as deemed necessary and that ECB shall not require candidates to use banners during campaigns.

Thimphu’s council member, Nima Gyaltshen, said he was in favour of the committee’s recommendations.  On the door-to-door campaigning, he said, with only few people there to monitor during elections, it was not known what was done behind closed doors in the name of campaigning.

“Although door-to-door campaigning isn’t allowed between 6 pm to 6 am, most candidates don’t follow it strictly, as ultimately everyone wants to win,” he said.

Members also said that voting from the place of residence was timely and would not only benefit voters but also lead to increased voter turn out during elections.

They also said that the size and clarity of candidate’s photograph on the voting machines were important based on the past elections’ experience.  On highlanders availing postal ballot facility, some members said it was important for a good voter turn out while some said it could lead to more issues considering the complexity involved.

Chukha’s council member Pema Tenzin said that even the literate find it difficult to fill postal ballots. “Postal ballots are not without issues as most are rejected and nomads availing the postal ballot facility could lead to more administrative burden,” he said. “It could cause more issues than being a solution.”

The members also emphasised on the need to allow candidates with university degrees attested by the Royal University of Bhutan, which includes degree earned through distance education.

The house resolved that the legislative committee would submit a final report for adoption after taking into consideration all the concerns raised and discussed.

By Kinga Dema