The Mission 2018 journey for the Election Commission of Bhutan is becoming rougher by the day.
It has been sued. Now, it is accused of withholding information regarding the authentication of university degree certificates for national council candidates. The mandate to authenticate university degree is with the Bhutan Accreditation Council. But with universities not responding to their queries, the Council identified the civil service commission and the Supreme Court as competent secondary sources to authenticate these documents.
The intent of this decision is noble for the Council saw the need to accommodate and facilitate the authentication process. With rules allowing professional bodies like the medical and health council to verify degrees for the Council, its decision to bring on board the civil service commission and the Supreme Court to authenticate documents is not wrong.
What is undemocratic, however, is the lapse in not informing the people and the candidates of such a service being available. In the recent case, one of the National Council candidates from Thimphu had authenticated his law degree certificates from the Supreme Court and not the university as other candidates had done so. He is the lone candidate to have availed of this service while others claim that they were unaware of the service.
The accreditation council and the election commission are accused of allegedly withholding this information for it has allegedly given the candidate an advantage in the national council race. The issue with university documents also saw two nominated candidates dropping out of the national council contest, one for not availing the authentication from the university and another for the BAC not endorsing his authentication.
The election commission has the constitutional mandate to ensure free and fair elections, for these are the tenets that a democracy is anchored on. Information is power and depriving the people and candidates of information during elections injures the principles of a democracy and the Constitution.
The case is still under review with the commission. But if it has erred, the accreditation council and the election commission must own up and right the wrong. Questioning the competency of the civil service commission and the Supreme Court, that were roped in to facilitate the electoral process in this conundrum is irrelevant.
As an institution that is established to supervise the electoral process, we call on the commission to be democratic in its actions. It should symbolise democratic sustainability not inefficiency. In this collective decision making process, it is the will of the informed voters that determines who they wish to be governed by. The commission’s responsibility is to facilitate this process.
The commission’s recent press release states that it has to date received five complaints related to the Dhamngoi Zomdu process. The number may be small but it is enough to indicate that candidates and their supporters are observant of the politicking occurring at the grassroots.
This is enough to remind all that elections are about people, not the election commission.