Australia has about 100 voters, the maximum

Tashi Dema

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has found a solution to the concerns of voters in Australia who were worried about not being able to vote through postal ballot.

ECB has appointed an assistant returning officer (ARO) in Perth, Australia, to facilitate voters of Chhoekhor-Tang bye-election to cast their votes via postal ballot. There will also be a counting centre.

This, according to ECB officials, was done after Bhutanese residing in Australia could not send their postal ballots because international postal services were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Australia has the highest number of postal voters. Out of the 132 Bhutanese abroad, almost 100 of them are in Australia.

ECB’s chief of legal and communications division, Sonam Wangda, said an ECB official, who is in Perth on study leave is the ARO and both party candidates also appointed their representative to ensure a fair election process. “We are further pursuing the matter with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA),” he said. The reaming voters, officials said, could send their ballot through post.

There are about 1,567 eligible postal voters registered for the bye-election. 1,435 are in the country and 132 reside abroad.   

According to ECB officials, the Commission facilitates postal ballot facilities to all eligible voters within the country and outside to participate in the electoral process in line with the Postal Ballot Rules and Regulations 2018.  “While ECB has made all necessary arrangements with the Bhutan Post to facilitate eligible voters to cast their votes via postal ballot, we countered difficulties while facilitating postal ballots service to eligible voters residing overseas.”

Sonam Wangda said they explored numerous options to ensure that the postal ballots from abroad reach Bhutan on time. “Appointing an ARO was the most appropriate option.”

Sonam Wangda said ECB had several rounds of talks with Bhutan Post and reached an agreement to ensure that postal ballots reach the returning officer’s office on time.

Officials also said that in consideration of the unpredictable nature of Covid-19 pandemic, the postal ballots might not reach on time as in the past. “The Commission would earnestly request all eligible postal voters to send their voted ballots soon after receiving the postal ballots,” Sonam Wangda said. “We would also request all voters of the constituency to exercise their rights in upholding the sacred duty as citizens of Bhutan.”

With the pandemic expected to loom over and local government elections nearing, ECB officials said the Commission would carry forward the best practices and lessons learnt from the experiences acquired during the Bye-election in Bumthang.

“As has been the practice, the newly formed third Election Commission of Bhutan will carry out a comprehensive review of the bye-election process with the Bumthang dzongkhag election authority to prepare for the upcoming Local Government elections in 2021,” Sonam Wangda said.

Officials also said that all voters who will go in person to polling stations to cast their votes must at all times ensure to comply with Covid-19 protocols circulated by the health ministry.