The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) issued a public reprimand against Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) Dramedtse_Ngatsang candidate Ugyen Wangdi on October 13 for instigating voters to make a false statement of identity and workplace to avail postal ballot facility. A public reprimand means the ECB announces the reprimand in the media.

The commission stated that Ugyen Wangdi breached section 31.2 of the Postal Ballots Rules and Regulations of Kingdom of Bhutan 2018.

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) general secretary, Phurba, lodged a complaint against Ugyen Wangdi on October 8 for inducing voters to make a false statement while applying for postal ballots by manipulating the pace of resident and workplace.

Phurba also alleged that Ugyen Wangdi further directed the voters to give false information as to their work address and place of residence to ECB if ECB calls them to reconfirm their address.

The ECB findings stated that since Ugyen Wangdi is in Mongar, the media arbitrator’s office asked the Mongar dzongkhag election officer to investigate the case.

The Mongar dzongkhag’s chief election coordinator constituted a committee to investigate the case and the election officer sought the direction of the media arbitrator hearing from Ugyen Wangdi.

ECB stated that the committee questioned Ugyen Wangdi in relation to the voice message and recorded the statement and the election officer reported to the media arbitrator on October 10.

The media arbitrators forwarded the investigation report to the ECB the next day.

The media arbitrator’s investigation report stated that Ugyen Wangdi had notified WeChat group members, who live in Wangduephodrang that since there is no postal ballot facilitation booth facility there, they have to register for the postal ballot in Thimphu.

It stated that Ugyen Wangdi advised the members that if ECB makes a telephone call and inquire about the work address as they provided, they have to agree and if they accidentally disagree, ECB would not issue them postal ballots.

Ugyen Wangdi responded that the purpose of the WeChat statement was to clarify the confusion and to remind the members of the group in general that anyone who applied for a postal ballot to answer ECB correctly so that ECB does not reject the ballot application.

ECB stated that the media arbitrators found the statement contradicts his audio message, as the audio message does not seem to advise the WeChat group members to provide the correct address of workplace. “Therefore, the OMA found that it was not in keeping with section 31.2 of the Postal Ballot Rules and Regulations of Kingdom of Bhutan 2018, which prohibits any person to induce any other person to make a false statement in an application for a postal ballot,” ECB stated.

It also stated that although Ugyen Wangdi submitted in his statement that the WeChat message was not to target to any group of voters or individuals but to general members (498 in the group) who are supposed to have members from all political parties.

Ugyen Wangdi submitted that the legal provisions cited by the complainant are not applicable and enforceable only if the case occurs within the election period.

The media arbitrators found that the election period commenced from August 17 while the voice message was on August 14, proving that the WeChat statement was made prior to the election period.

It stated that moreover, the word ‘candidate’ used in section 289 and 293 (a) is defined as a person who has been or claims to have been duly nominated as a candidate at an election.

The media arbitrators found that the letter of intent was submitted on August 21 and Ugyen Wangdi does not fall within the meaning of candidate prior to submitting the letter of intent, as he was not duly nominated as a candidate. “Hence, as stated by the respondent, section 289 and 293 (a) are not applicable in this case. However, as an individual or a prospective candidate, he has to adhere to electoral laws related to a postal ballot.”

The media arbitrators also stated that they are of the view that Ugyen Wangdi should be held liable for breaching section 31.2 of the Postal Ballot Rules and Regulations of Kingdom of Bhutan 2018.

The ECB stated that it notes the findings of the media arbitrators and also specifically notes that in the WeChat message, Ugyen Wangdi explicitly says that if people receive calls from ECB and are asked if they work in a certain office, they must say yes because if they say otherwise, they may not get postal ballot and they if they are asked if they are a certain person and working in a certain place, they must say yes.

It stated that it does not indicate Ugyen Wangdi reminding the group members to respond to the ECB queries correctly but encouraging cheating with a clear indication to instigate voters to provide a false statement in order to avail the postal ballot facility. “It is not correct to state that Wangduephodrang postal voters have to go to Thimphu to either register or vote unless they have cheated or registered under false information.”

Tashi Dema