The Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) had ordered Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) Khar-Yurung candidate, Tshering Choden, to discontinue her campaign since yesterday.

The candidate was also issued a warning and slapped a fine worth the minimum wage for 60 days.

The restraining order was issued after the candidate, during the live constituency public debate on October 5, alleged that there is interference in the electoral process with instructions from higher authorities, asking people to cast their vote in favour of a particular party, which questions the very purpose of introducing democracy in the country.

The ECB’s decision issued yesterday stated that the chief election coordinator of Pemagatshel and the returning officer of the constituency called Tshering Choden for an explanation.

Tshering Choden had initially filed a case against the chairman of the retired armed force personnel in the dzongkhag, alleging that retired armed force personnel were influencing people to vote for Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) on orders from higher authority.

The dzongkhag election dispute settlement body (DEDSB) carried out an investigation and forwarded the case to the central dispute settlement body (CEDSB).

Tshering Choden, in her explanation to the chief election coordinator on October 6, stated that her intention was to let the general election go through a fair and free means without undermining the integrity of anyone’s authority.

In her statement to the returning officer, she stated that the statement she made with regard to the order received from higher authority to vote for a particular party was based on the complaint she lodged against the retired armed force personnel.

The commission stated that the allegation of undue influence upon orders of higher authority was found to be misleading, besides being in contempt of the legal proceedings that were underway upon the case being filed by the candidate.

It also stated that Tshering Choden is found to have made the baseless allegation that is gravely misleading in terms of casting unthinkable aspersions and rifts, besides being in contempt of the on-going legal proceedings with the case being filed by herself.

ECB stated that the candidate is in violation of the Election Code of Conduct, specifically section 293 (C), which states, “Every political party and candidate shall not indulge in any activity, which may create ill-will, differences or cause tension between different communities, religious or linguistic groups.”

Tshering Choden was also found to have violated section 525 of the Election Act and 289 and 293 (d) of the Election Code of Conduct for stating that the party would solve the citizenship issues of fatherless children, including those from non-Bhutanese fathers but born to a Bhutanese mother, on the live televised debate.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) lodged the complaint against her on October 7 on this issue.

ECB stated that the statement related to the census the candidate made is clearly in contradiction to the Constitutional provisions on the royal prerogatives.

It also stated that the candidate’s explanation that she was trying to say that if DPT wins, they would try to look into the matter to help and support the fatherless children within our capacities is baseless. “As the usurping or disrespect of the royal prerogatives is unthinkable for any Bhutanese and offers no reasonable grounds to believe that it would further any party or candidate’s electoral chances, it can only be concluded as resorting to royal patronage which is also unlawful under section 525 of the Election Act.”

The commission also stated that the candidate is held accountable and the responsibility has not been cast on DPT, as the issues are directly related to the statements made by the candidate during the public debate in the constituency.

Meanwhile, the commission stated that the complaint Tshering Choden lodged against the chairman of the retired armed force personnel in the dzongkhag, Darjay Wangchuk, as received by the DEDSB investigation team indicate that the orders originated from a dasho called Nidup, an individual known to Darjay Wangchuk and not a public figure or proven to have undue influence amounting to such a high office that brings to question even the very purpose of introducing democracy in the country.

It also stated that the order appears to be more of a request with statements from members of the group, Tashi Dawa, Darjay Wangchuk and Dorji Chedup that the message was only conveyed within the local retired armed forces personnel with no evidence of undue influence, bribe or threat, fear or favour.

Tashi Dema