… issues a final stern warning to all political parties 

Rinzin Wangchuk

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) reminded all political parties to strictly comply with the electoral laws and to avoid political campaigning during their familiarisation visits yesterday.

In its letters to the presidents of political parties, the chief election commissioner stated that the commission would take stern action against a political party if it is established that the party has engaged in campaigning during the non-election period or violated the electoral laws.

The letter stated that political parties are gearing up for their activities to contest the historic fourth National Assembly elections. To ensure free, fair, and transparent elections, the ECB allowed political parties to carry out familiarisation visits and public consultation meetings based on their written applications.

Amidst the preparations, according to the letter, several reports are emerging on various social media platforms and at public gatherings that political parties are campaigning and violating electoral laws during their familiarization visits and consultation meetings. 

The letter also stated that ECB has received some reports about candidates from a particular constituency and party workers traveling with their party’s president and vice president to other constituencies during familiarization visits.

“The ECB has already reminded general secretaries of political parties to refrain from such travels from one constituency to another without prior approval,” the letter stated. “Those candidates who are stationed in their constituencies can only accompany their presidents and vice presidents when they visit their constituencies. However, they cannot campaign and conduct consultation meetings when there is no familiarisation visit.”

The ECB urged all political parties to treat the letter from yesterday as a final reminder. “If we receive a complaint with evidence that a political party has engaged in political campaigning and violated the electoral law, the ECB will take stern actions depending on the gravity of the case,” the letter stated. Consequently, actions can include fines and disqualification of the political party or candidate from contesting elections.

Earlier on August 5, the ECB issued a public notification urging individuals to come forward and report if they have established wrongdoing or violations of the electoral laws.

The notification also stated that all political parties were clearly reminded that during such visits and meetings, they are not permitted to engage in any form of political campaigning. All political parties have also been informed that political campaigning can only commence from the date notified in the notification calling the National Assembly elections in 2023.

Kuensel learned that some parties are reportedly campaigning that they would remove the new Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) imposed on tourists or reduce the current SFD rate of USD 200 per day. One political party also agrees that it is important to revisit the tourism policy.

“We are also hearing that some parties are even pledging to provide and upgrade utility vehicles to the local government if they are elected,” one electorate said.

There are five political parties, including two newly registered parties in the country today.

Meanwhile, as the NA elections draw nearer, the ECB has stepped up advocacy efforts to inform and create awareness among citizens on electoral processes and procedures through various channels.

The ECB also carried out a training of trainers program covering civic and voter education for all 20 dzongkhags last month. Dzongkhag election offices will be carrying out civic and voter education in the gewog and chiwogs to create awareness among voters at the grassroots level from next week.