A mid a flurry of cross-allegations we are seeing this election, the election commission’s silence is the loudest.
Party workers and candidates are accused of mudslinging and spreading false information. The recent case of DPT party workers allegedly misinforming people that DNT president’s meeting was cancelled in Trashigang is condemnable. To deprive them of an opportunity to listen to what the party president and candidates had to share is a breach of the election code of conduct. DNT has now accused DPT of character assassination. DPT has denied hiring youth to discredit DNT on social media.
These could be the work of overzealous party workers but electoral laws mandate every political party and candidates to ensure that their supporters do not indulge in any unlawful act or corrupt practices. Parties are responsible for the conduct of their supporters and when serious allegations are made online or offline, they must condemn it.
In these two cases, no official complaint was filed, although it’s reported that it was conveyed verbally to the election officials. Waiting for an official complaint to be lodged to investigate allegations is unfair to the parties that are busy campaigning. For one, the damage is already done and parties are now taking it upon themselves to clarify these allegations during their campaigns.
It is during these times that people expect the commission to be proactive and prompt to ensure a level playing field. Free and fair campaign must be a prerequisite for a free and fair election. A significant factor here is the uniform sharing of information early on to the parties, not just on what they can do during campaigns, but also on what they cannot.
The commission’s reminder to the parties that they cannot pledge beyond their manifesto has raised several questions. While none questions the commission’s power to issue such instructions or the intention behind it, the reminder came in the midst of a campaign when it had already become a political issue.
With allegations flowing faster and more visible, we expect the election machinery, which runs into thousands and is stationed across the country to be more active in ensuring a regulated competition that ensures fairness.
The people would like to believe that aspiring parliamentarians and leaders would not resort to committing electoral offences and coerce voters to choose one party over the other. We would like to believe that the Bhutanese electorate is more informed today and that it would exercise the Constitutional rights with wisdom.
With new times throwing up new issues, we are all learning and understanding the rules as we go along. What is important today for all of us is to ensure that we hold a good election.
We need to understand and remind ourselves that an election is the means, not an end.