The election dispute settlement body of Trongsa yesterday issued a written warning and slapped a penalty of Nu 12,900 to Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) candidate from Nubi-Tangsibji constituency, Yeshey Penjor, for violation of the election code of conduct.

Yeshey Penjor in a WeChat group consisting of DNT members had said that economic development and cordial relations with India was possible only if DNT formed the government in 2018.

The dispute settlement body calculated the fine based on the minimum wage rate of Nu 215 a day for two months. It has asked Yeshey Penjor to deposit the fine amount into the dzongkhag revenue account.

“Repetition of the offence would result in imposition of additional fines and disqualification of the candidature,” the dispute settlement body stated in its decision.

The dispute settlement body found that Yeshey Penjor had violated Section 290 of the election code of conduct under Chapter 16 of the election Act, which states that political parties at all times shall uphold the rights and freedoms of the people as guaranteed by the Constitution and provide equal opportunity to qualified persons to participate in electoral activities.

The DNT candidate also violated Section 294 of the election code of conduct, which states, “Every political party, candidate and their representatives at all forums and at all times shall avoid defamatory and derogatory attacks on rival parties or individual personalities through any form of communication and avoid the use of inflammatory language, provocative actions, images or manifestation that incite violence, hatred or intimidation against another party or candidate or any person or group of persons.”

The body found the candidate had also violated ECB’s social media rules and regulations 2018 and the political parties rules and regulation 2015.

Following the leaking of the message on social media, the DPT candidate lodged a complaint with the returning officer last week.

The DPT candidate had stated to the ECB that the case not only entailed security, sovereignty and external matters but was also an attempt to undermine Bhutan’s good relations with India. The message on WeChat was shared on September 17.

In the WeChat message, Yeshey Penjor said that Bhutan needed to maintain good relations with the neighbouring country. “We should convey that DPT coming to power is not in our interest,” he said in the voice message adding that the people along the border would be affected.

Bhutan, he said, receives a majority of its development assistance from India and that development in the country would be affected if DPT comes to power.

Yeshey Penjor blames spies

In his rebuttal, Yeshey Penjor however, stated that DPT supporters had interfered into DNT’s in-house campaign activity, which he argued was a violation of the election Act.

“My statement to the DNT supporters in the said WeChat group was made towards the evening of September 18. I was alone in DNT office, Trongsa,” he stated in his statement to the dispute settlement body. He said the dissemination of his statement was an attempt to defame him and his party.

The statement he had made, the DNT candidate said, was a recall of the issues debated in the 2013 general elections between DPT and People’s Democratic Party and that the statement was in the public domain.

Yeshey Penjore stated that he had not circulated in public the mp3 voice recording submitted by DPT in the supporting document. “It is true that the statement recorded in the mp3 was mine. I made the statement in a in-house WeChat group (Khamshing Meto C),” he said.

The DNT candidate argued that he had made the statement in response to inquiries on “why should DNT win the 2018 election?” in the WeChat group. He submitted that the statement was not at all indented to provoke confusion among the public.

“Unfortunately, there had been spies in the DNT WeChat group, which hacked the statement, (re) produced in mp3 and wildly circulated in social media. I regret and feel sorry for such mishaps initiated by a few individuals,” he submitted to the dispute settlement committee.

The dzongkhag body has given the DNT candidate five days to appeal.

MB Subba