LG:Those who contested in the recent local government (LG) elections in Trashigang say that state-funded election campaign funds should be provided.
LG aspirants in both the first and second LG elections held in 2011 and this year had to bear campaign expenses themselves. Only parliamentary contestants are entitled to a Nu 130,000 state-funded campaign fund.
LG contestants have to limit their campaign expenses to Nu 50,000. This includes expenses for renting offices, hiring office equipment, utility bills, communication expenses, stationery and travel.
Every week, candidates also have to file their returns with the national and micro-observer as mandated in the election Act. However, no refunds are provided by the Election Commission even though candidates file their returns.
According to those who contested in the second LG election in Trashigang, lack of campaign funds discouraged many interested people from contesting. “There were people who said that they could not contest in the elections as they did not have money to finance their campaigns,” Sonam Dorji, a contestant said.
Contestants in the dzongkhag also did away with posters and avoided renting office space to curb their expenses. “All of us decided not to make posters to curb the expenses and also because the people knew about each of us,” a gup contestant from Bidung, Ugyen Tshering, said.
Contestants from Yangnyer refrained from making posters for the same reason. Tshogpa candidates didn’t even campaign since their expenses would not be refunded.
Most of the contestants in Trashigang also did not campaign door-to-door to curb their election expenses. Many of the candidates from 15 gewogs of Trashigang, besides Kanglung, dropped door-to-door campaigning especially in the larger gewogs where traveling expenses would have been incurred. “Most of us only focused on the common forums,” Sonam Dorji said.
But many candidates felt that forgoing door-to-door campaigning affected their campaigning prospects and outcome of the election as voters may not have been as informed about the candidates. The candidates also pointed out that many voters could not attend the common forums because of farm work.
“Most voters missed the common forum as well as the door-to-door campaign, which limited the voters’ understanding about the candidates,” Sonam Dorji said.
The lack of a state-funded campaign fund also deprived most candidates from having representatives since the latter would have to be paid. If possible each candidate could keep one representative at every polling station. In some gewogs there would be more than six polling stations.
Ideally, the candidates would also like to keep a representative at the returning officer’s office to attend the postal ballot counting.
Phongmey mangmi-elect, Tshering Gyeltshen said that denying LG contestants a state-funded campaign fund is unfair in a democratic institution. “It is inconvenient for the candidates and discomforting when candidates have to file their expenses even though we are in fact self-financing our campaign expenses,” Tshering Gyeltshen said on poll day.
Many of those who contested in the recent elections agreed that the state should fund campaigning for LG contestants. “It need not be a huge amount because even a small amount, just enough to cover the travel expenses would mean so much to the candidates without resources,” Karma, one of the gup contestants, said.
The contestants also argue that state funding would not bear heavily on the government coffer since tshogpa contestants make up the majority in the LG elections. Tshogpa contestants would not need campaign funds as they need not require much campaiging.
Only gup and mangmi contestants require to travel since they have to cover a larger area during campaigning.
Some candidates suggested that if the government is wary of incurring huge campaign expenses for the LG elections, it could start funding only those candidates who make it past the chiwog zomdus.