MB Subba

All registered voters, who reside outside their thromdes and overseas, shall be extended the opportunity to cast their votes through the postal ballot in the upcoming third thromde elections, according to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

The ECB is gearing up for elections as the thromde tshogdes of Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu complete their terms on February 26.

The ECB’s head of the civic and electoral department, Phub Dorji, said that the postal ballot facility was being facilitated to minimise the movement of voters from place to place and thereby mitigate the risks of Covid-19.  Voters must register with the ECB to avail the facility.

To ensure that all concerns are addressed in a holistic manner, he said the ECB would further review its strategy document and standard operating procedure (SOP) for the thromde elections.

The elections will be different from the past elections due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The election commission through phone calls is collecting information about voters residing outside the three thromdes to enable them to vote from their place of residence.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Phub Dorji said the ECB would issue clear procedures for carrying out campaigning during the thromde elections, following the issuance of notification.

The ECB warns that any election campaign before the issue of notification calling local government election shall be construed as being in violation of Section 268 of the Election Act and be dealt with as per the electoral laws.  This, it states, is to maintain a level playing field among all contesting candidates.

The section states: “The election campaign shall be permitted to commence from the date of issue of notification by a Royal Decree calling an election as announced, or notified in the case of Local Government elections by the Election Commission and end forty-eight hours prior to the hour fixed for the commencement of poll for the election.”

Elections involve gatherings of people in the form of campaigns and face-to-face contacts between voters and election officials.

Phub Dorji said that the ECB has already planned and prepared strategies to conduct elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic.  The ECB, he said, has developed awareness materials and they have been disseminated to the general public through the media.

He said that the ECB would put in place all necessary arrangements to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 local transmission.

“Our goal is to hold Covid-19 free elections. Towards this end, we’re making final preparations to address all possible concerns,” he said.

The elections are being planned within the stipulated time.  The election Act states that a local government election should be held within 90 days from the expiry of the term.

“We’re prepared to hold elections on time in the three thromdes of Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu in keeping with the electoral laws of the land,” he said.

As per the Act, the elections are expected to be held within May.

There are about 10,000 eligible voters in the three thromdes.  Elections for the Samdrupjongkhar thromde are due in September as the first election in the thromde was delayed.

The thrompons of the three thromdes have expressed their intent to contest the upcoming election.

Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee is completing his second term, while the Phuentsholing’s Uttar Kumar Rai and Gelephu’s Tikaram Kafley are completing their first term.