On April 9, election officials allegedly took a member of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa in Tsirang, Kalay Dukpa for interrogation and confiscated his cellphone.

Kuensel learnt that the incident occurred when Kalay Dukpa, 51, was walking towards Damphu town and a Prado stopped in front of him.

A police sergeant of the Damphu Police Division in tracksuit and two other men approached him and introduced themselves as officials from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), Kalay Dukpa alleged.

He alleged that the officials asked him if he belonged to any political party and if the party had a WeChat group.  Kalay Dukpa lives in Semjong gewog.

Kalay Dukpa claimed that he was allegedly taken to a guesthouse where the officials were putting up. At the guesthouse, the official told him that they were here to investigate a discussion that came up in the WeChat group ‘DPT family 1’ where he and a few supporters had questioned the trustworthiness of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and the Postal Ballot System.

He was asked to handover his cell phone along with its password. The gadget wasn’t returned.

Kalay Dukpa alleged that the officials interrogated him on six particular areas. One of them was on reasons for initiating the discussion on the trustworthiness of the EVM and the postal ballot system. He was asked why he and his colleagues were not satisfied with the EVM and the postal ballot. They also sought whereabouts of his other colleagues who were part of the WeChat discussion.

He 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.

Kalay Dukpa told Kuensel that the discussion in the WeChat group happened sometime in December 2017. To get suggestions, he had asked other members of the group that with the onset of digitisation and improvement in technology, the current system of voting through EVM might not be trustworthy. In the group he had also suggested that the postal ballot needed better monitoring until it reached its destination.

“I did not accuse anyone of tampering EVM machines or postal ballots but it was just an idea for change of voting system,” he said.

He alleged that the officials sought basis for often discussing, in the WeChat group, how strong and widespread DPT’s support base was.

During the five-hour interrogation that lasted until 4pm, he was asked if he could identify participants who questioned the EVM and postal ballot system during one of the commissioner’s visit to Tsirang last year.

On April 10, the same officials also visited a former DPT coordinator’s house in Changchey, about 10kms away from Damphu town.

The former DPT coordinator alleged that the officials questioned him on the same issue and was asked to write a statement, which he refused to do. “They wrote the statement themselves and forced me to sign it,” he said. “I signed because I was threatened.”

The 65-year-old resigned as a DPT coordinator in February 2013. But one of the DPT members added him as a member of the WeChat group.

He alleged that while one of the officials, a female recorded his verbal statements against his will the other two male officials enclosed him. The questioning went on for over an hour. “I asked for their identity proof or at least a letter from the court or the dzongkhag for conducting such an investigation and they failed to show any,” he said.

The former coordinator said that people walking into homes and threatening the residents is not a good sign. “What we discussed was a healthy suggestion to have a more reliable voting system in the future,” he said.

Unlike Kalay Dukpa, he did not hand over his cell phone to the officials. DPT did not comment.

Election officials in Tsirang were aware that a team from the ECB headquarters was there but their purpose of visit wasn’t known. An official from the ECB headquarters confirmed that it had sent a team to Tsirang.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang