A decentralisation policy that will provide clarity of roles and responsibilities between central agencies and local governments will be formulated as part of the government’s strategy to strengthen democracy and governance during the 12th Plan.

To be formulated by the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA), the policy will provide a clear guidance and reform path on decentralisation, according to the 12th Plan.

As part of the decentralisation process, local governments will be mandated to increase people’s participation in improving service delivery and decision-making process through implementation of citizen report card, grievance-redressal mechanism, and effective conduct of public meetings.

The government has stated that implementation capacity of the local governments would be strengthened in view of increased financial resources.

The 12th Plan, which is being deliberated in Parliament, identifies people’s participation in the electoral process, increased allocation of financial and human resources to local governments as the key to achieving the target.

During the 12th Plan, the voter turnout would be maintained at 71 percent for the National Assembly and 54 percent for the National Council. The voter turnout rates in the 2018 parliamentary elections were 71.46 percent for the National Assembly and 54.3 percent for the National Council.

The government also aims to maintain the voter turnout for local government elections at a minimum of 55.8 percent.

However, Khamaed Lunana MP Yeshey Dem during the deliberation on January 9 said that elections for the National Assembly, the National Council and local governments should be given equal importance and that the voter turnout targets should be equal for all three elections.

“The voter turnout target for National Assembly elections is high compared to that of the National Council and local governments. If we set a lower voter turnout target for the National Council and local governments compared to the National Assembly, we are giving different levels of importance to various tiers of elections,” She said.

The 12th Plan document states that sustaining participation in electoral process will continue to be a challenge. The Plan aims to strengthen the Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) role as a credible institution that ensures free and fair elections.

Gangzur Minjey MP Kinga Penjore said that a policy measure should be put in place to ensure that citizens take their voting rights as a responsibility. “Voting should be made compulsory, and those failing to turn up should be liable for some kind of penalty,” he said.

Such a measure, he said, would not only increase voter turnout but also reduce corruption in elections. He said a strict policy that makes voting compulsory would discourage people to look for allegedly sponsored bus rides to poling stations.

Kinga Penjor also said that more community radio stations needed to be established to create awareness among the people.

Kanglung-Udzorong-Samkhar MP Dr Samdrup R Wangchuk said that perceived corruption in election had become rampant and that a stringent policy was required to curb corruption. He was of the view that corruption risks would increase when supporters of political parties and candidates try to convince people to vote.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the government would see if the Election Act 2008 needed amendment. Measures like residential voting system, he said, was one of the options to increase voter turnout and reduce corruption.

MB Subba