Did ECB breach Election Act?

Notification calling the thromde election was issued four days before the nomination zomdu

Election: In what could be a breach of the Election Act, the Election Commission of Bhutan issued the notification calling the thromde elections a month later than the expected date.

The election Act prescribes that the notification calling a local government election should be issued not later than 90 days before the expiry of the term. However, the notification was issued on December 25, about two months before the expiry of Thimphu Thromde’s tenure.

The term of the Thimphu Thromde ends on February 19, according to former thrompon Kinlay Dorjee. This leaves roughly 57 days from the date of the announcement of the notification to the expiry of the term.

Section 196 of the Election Act 2008 states, “The Election Commission shall, not later than ninety days, before the date of expiration of duration of a Local Government, announce the date on which the Commission shall issue the notification calling the election and setting the process of election in motion.” This is to ensure that each local government is reconstituted on the date of expiration of the existing local government.”

A local government will continue for five years from the date of the first sitting, which should be convened within 30 days of declaration of election results.

Former Thimphu thrompon Kinlay Dorjee took office on February 18, 2011 and the first sitting was held on the next day. His term expires on February 19, 2016. He resigned on December 28 to re-contest, a day before the zomdu.

The election commission is yet to respond to Kuensel’s query on the issue, but Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in an earlier interview told that the notification would be issued in consonance with the electoral laws.

“Specific announcement and notification regarding poll dates will be issued not later than 90 days before the tenure ends, as per our electoral laws,” the CEC had said. This, he said, was to ensure that the local governments are reconstituted on the date their term expires.

The National Council (NC) recently reviewed the election Act and proposed it for amendment. The council’s Deputy Chairperson Tshering Dorji said the election Act should be harmonized with the Constitution to prevent such problems in future.

Pointing out an inconsistency in the Constitution and the election Act, he said while the Constitution says that a local government election can be held within three months from the date of expiry of their terms, the Act states that it should be reconstituted on the date of expiry.

“The election Act treats the local government elections like that of NC, which has to be reconstituted on the date of expiry of its term,” he said. “As a law making body, we have written to the election commission regarding the inconsistency,” he said.

He said should a disputed arise because of such inconsistencies, the provisions of the Constitution will prevail. “Anything that is inconsistent with the Constitution will become null and void,” he said.

Article 24(5) of the Constitution confirms the Deputy Chairperson’s statement. The Article prescribes that the ECB shall ensure that the election commission holds elections so that the National Assembly and the local governments are reconstituted within ninety days after the dissolution.

The issue arose after some candidates complained of lack of adequate time to prepare after the notification. For instance, a nominee from Phuentsholing, Sangay Tamang, said he could not produce all the required documents because of lack of time. The nomination period ended on December 31. “I could not produce the documents on time,” he said.

The Phuentsholing Maed candidate, Tandin Wangchuk who lost to former thrompon Tsheten Dorji had said the zomdu had happened in a haste calling the conduct of election a “hide and seek” game.

There are now 24 days before the poll day. The result will be announced on January 26, and the first sitting should be within 30 days from the date of declaration of the election results.

A candidate will be given up to 22 days for campaigning, which will start from January 1 and end at 8am on January 23.

MB Subba

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