MB Subba

With dhamngoi zomdus for the upcoming local government (LG) elections starting on November 3, many voters have started travelling to their respective dzongkhags to support their candidates.

It was learnt that supporters of some of the aspiring candidates have plans to hire vehicles to ferry voters from Thimphu to their dzongkhags.

However, election officials have stated that ferrying of voters and booking vehicles to ferry supporters is not permissible, and persons found guilty in such cases will be dealt with as per the law.

One of the reasons against allowing such practices is to provide a level playing field to all the candidates.

Although the election commission has encouraged voters residing outside the dzongkhags to vote through postal ballots, voters must cast their ballots in person at the zomdus (primaries), which are not considered elections.

Spokesperson of the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), Phub Dorji, said that although similar allegations were made in past elections, the complainants could not give concrete evidence.

“Ferrying of voters other than one’s own family members is illegal and such incidents should be reported to election officials,” he said, adding that it is difficult for election officials to detect all cases themselves.

One of the aspiring gups said he had not seen incidents of voter ferrying, although some allegations had surfaced in the past. 

He added that ferrying voters residing outside the dzongkhag would not make much difference if the aspiring candidate has a strong support base already present in the village.

According to election officials, only representatives authorised by the candidates and election officials to solicit support can do so. Unauthorised individuals who solicit support for candidates are committing an illegal act.

A candidate will be liable for “all acts of commission and omission” by his or her election representatives. Such acts, according to the ECB, include interference in the conduct of lawful elections and undermining free and fair elections.

Phub Dorji said the number of candidates was expected to increase in the upcoming election in view of the growing importance of local governments. In the past LG elections, many demkhongs were left vacant due to lack of candidates.

“I don’t think we’ll have vacant demkhongs at the end of the election, although we may see some exceptions,” he said.

Thimphu and Gelephu thromdes both have a vacant thromde tshogpa constituency, even after the completion of the recently concluded thromde elections. The nominees were disqualified for their affiliation with political parties.

The Ministry of Finance has extended the austerity measures in the fiscal year 2021-22 in view of a poor revenue forecast.

The ECB spokesperson said that travel expenses for election officials have not been curtailed. However, he added the commission would be judicious in the utilisation of resources, given the economic situation of the country.

On the estimated budget for the elections, Phub Dorji said that the total election expenditure will be revealed at the end of the election. “We are mindful of the economic situation due to the pandemic situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the election commission has extended the deadline for registration of postal ballots until 5pm of November 10.

Phub Dorji said that the deadline was extended to reduce crowding on poll day. He said that the number of facilitation booths will be decided after the completion of the registration, depending on the need.

Polling officials, he said, were being deployed and that the total number of officials that would be on election duty would be known later.

Dhamngoi zomdus will be held from November 3 to 20, and the election will be held on December 22. The dates for dhamngoi zomdus will differ from chiwog to chiwog.