Denying Thromde residents right to vote undermines democratic values

With the completion of tenures of the existing Thromde Tshogde Members (TTM), the next election is not far. The current limitation of voting rights given to only people with census in Thromde defies the spirit of the constitution-the majoritarian rule and undermines democratic values. It impedes accountability as only a handful of people participate in the Thromde elections. 

 Let us look at the voter record in the last election in 2016. Kuensel reported that Thimphu Thrompon won 2,017 (93%) yes votes of the total 2,557 votes cast, Phuentsholing Thrompon by 248 (51%) votes of the total 487 votes and Gelephu Thrompon won 317 (46%) votes of the total 677. Now, equating against the actual population, less than 0.03% in Thimphu, 1% in Phuentsholing and Gelephu around 7% of the total population voted in the last election. As per the Population and Housing Census Report, 2017 recorded Thimphu’s population was 114,551, Phuentsholing 27,658 and Gelephu 9,858 in 2017 and not to forget the rural-urban migration rate at 18%.  Thus, these figures indicate that many gewogs have more voters than Thromde.

Article 22 of the Constitution gives the power and authority to LG to ensure decentralization hence promote “direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being.”  LG law mandates the LG to take local interests and provide “a forum for public consideration on issues affecting the local territory.” Further, LG is required to “provide a democratic and accountable government for local communities and “encourage the involvement of communities.”  How will these be implemented if the LG is accountable only to a handful of voters? 

Article 23 (1), states “general will of the people shall be the basis of government” which is “expressed through periodic elections.” The preamble of the LG Act recognizes this aspect- direct participation of the people to represent the interests of local communities and fulfil their aspirations. Section 16 provides that one of the main criteria for the classification of Thromdes must be based on the total resident population of the area.  Where is the “general will” and “direct participation”?

The accountability of elected members is generally tied to voting as elected members work for voters. Thus, the current system also creates vulnerability to election corruption as few influential voters with a large family can transfer their census to Thromdes to influence the election to fulfil vested interests. For example, a single-family with 11 votes played the deciding factor in Phuentsholing Thrompon in the last election. Further, the current system also deprives the choice to elect more competent candidates as there are too few choices. Thimphu had to cast “yes” or “no” votes in the last election because there was no choice of candidates. 

 Unlike us, in India, every resident who is a citizen of India, has the right to vote in their respective elections. This is true for other countries alike, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan election or New York City election and the list goes on. ECB must recognize the larger interest of the Thromde residents, their right to vote because Thromde Tshogde affects the lives of every resident and they have the right to hold their elected leaders accountable. Otherwise, the Thromde elections are fundamentally flawed and defeat the purpose of the election itself.      

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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