The Election Commission of Bhutan yesterday forwarded the case involving a Tsirang resident, Kalay Dukpa, who had allegedly questioned the trustworthiness of the electronic voting machine and the postal ballot system, to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
Head of election department, Sonam Tobgyal said that the commission’s investigation has been completed and a decision reached. “After we heard the report, we conducted an investigation as per procedure and held hearings,” he said.
“Kalay Dukpa admitted that he had discussed about the trustworthiness of the EVM and the postal ballot system but said that the allegation made was based on hearsay.”
Sonam Tobgyal also explained that the investigation has nothing to do with the political party the person is affiliated to and the commission has the mandate to investigate any individual that makes false statements. Kalay Dukpa is a Druk Phuensum Tshogpa(DPT) coordinator in Tsirang.
Since the discussion happened during the national council elections, Sonam Tobgyal said that the commission had to immediately investigate. “He said it is based on hearsay but his action is in contravention of the election Act. It is a felony, which is beyond the commission’s mandate. So we forwarded the case to the OAG.”
The commission has charged him with section 560 (c) of the election Act, which states that “A person shall be guilty of making a false statement if he/she makes a statement or declaration in writing which is false and which he/she either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, in connection with (c) any matter relating to the conduct of election.”
Sonam Tobyal said that Kalay Dukpa’s message, shared on a social media platform, WeChat, which has a large reach, could have indirectly impacted the national council elections. “People have the right to exercise their franchise and they have confidence in the election process but this message could have affected the NC elections,” he said.
The commission has alsocharged him with section 519 of the election Act, which states that, “A person shall be guilty of offences of undue influence, if he/she interferes directly or indirectly or attempt to interfere on the part of any person, with the free exercise of any electoral right.”
He is also charged with section 521 of the election Act, which states, “A person shall be guilty of offence of abetting disharmony, if he/she appeals to any other or group of persons to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his/her religion, community or language or other status.”
Meanwhile, a month after election officials allegedly confiscated the cell phone of Kalay Dukpa, during an interrogation process, the gadget was returned recently.
Kalay Dukpa, 51, from Semjong, said he was made to report to the Election Commission of Bhutan office in Thimphu for a hearing.
“In one of the meeting halls of the office, at least six officials interrogated me on the discussion that came up in a WeChat group where few supporters of DPT and I had questioned the trustworthiness of the Electronic Voting Machine and the Postal Ballot System,” he said.
He claimed that the discussion was made in December 2017 but he and a former DPT coordinator in Tsirang were questioned only on April 9 and 10.
Kalay Dukpa, a DPT coordinator claimed that the interrogation in Thimphu lasted almost three hours.
He said the officials questioned him on six particular areas. “One was for initiating the discussion on the trustworthiness of the EVM and the postal ballot system.”
He said he was asked why he and his colleagues were not satisfied with the EVM and the postal ballot. “They also sought whereabouts of other colleagues who were part of the WeChat discussion.”
Kalay Dukpa alleged that the officials asked him why he supported a discussion where some of the group members insinuated that election officials including a security guard allegedly influenced the 2013 election results.
He said that he did not blame anyone of tampering EVM machines or postal ballots but discussed an idea for a change of voting system. “It was just a casual discussion among friends,” he said.
He, however, said he sought forgiveness from the commission if his discussion caused any harm, which he never intended to. He alleged he was made to sign a statement after the three-hour questioning. “I never thought a simple discussion could be so serious and if at all I’m wrong, it is because I’m an innocent farmer.”
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang
Additional reporting by Sonam Pelden