3,637 aspiring local leaders have registered for FLT

MB Subba 

The second local governments (LGs) will complete their terms in the last week of October.

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is preparing for the third gewog elections, which will be held on schedule with Covid-19 safety protocols. The LGs, as per the Election Act, should be reconstituted within 90 days from the date of their dissolution.

ECB’s secretariat director, Phub Dorji, said that all the local leaders would resign together and that a notification towards that end would be issued. “All local government members will resign in the last week of October,” he said, without revealing the date.

He said that the standard operating procedure (SOP) that was implemented in the recent parliamentary bye-elections and thromde elections would be followed.   

Officials and close observers say that more aspiring local leaders are expected to take part in the upcoming LG elections than in the previous elections. One of the factors that are expected to increase the number of aspiring local leaders is the migration of many people to their villages amid the pandemic.

According to ECB, 3,637 aspiring local leaders, 724 of whom are female, have registered for the functional literacy test (FLT) that will be held on October 1.

An aspiring LG candidate must pass the FLT conducted by the ECB.

Executive director of the Center for Local Governance and Research (CLGR), Tharchen, said that incentives of local leaders are good enough to attract more educated and capable candidates than in the past elections.

“The pandemic is good for LG elections as we see many educated people back in the villages,” he said. He said that unlike in the past almost every chiwog is expected to have a candidate for the posts of gup and mangmi.

In most of the gewogs, two to three chiwogs nominated an aspiring gup in the past elections due to the lack of candidates.

Tharchen, who has carried out researches on the country’s local governments in the CLGR, said that compulsory quarantine protocol in southern dzongkhags and at the international border are expected to increase voter turnout as people would be discouraged to move to southern dzongkhags and go on pilgrimage in India during the winter months.

Tharchen said that it was also important for the ECB to create convenient mobile pooling booths and facilitate an easy postal ballot facility to increase voter turnout as the voter turnout in the past LG elections had been low.

The voter turnout in the second local government (LG) election in 2016 was 55.8 percent, which was a slight decrease from 56.23 percent in the first LG election.

Most of the dzongkhags have concluded their last dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) sessions of the second LG. However, a few dzongkhags, including Tsirang, are yet to conduct their last session.

Yalang gup and DT chairperson of Trashiyangtse, Chosum Wangdi, said that he was waiting for notification from the government on the completion of the term and the upcoming elections.

He said that LG members in his dzongkhag would complete their five-year term on October 29. LG’s five-year term commences from the first sitting of the local government session.

The gup also said that the number of candidates for LG posts was expected to increase. “I’m hearing that all the five chiwogs of my gewog will have candidates for the post of gup, which is good,” he said.

A gup said that a lot had been achieved in the past 10 years of elected local government in terms of development and that the main job of the future local governments would generally entail maintenance of the existing infrastructure.

He said that the future gewog governments should focus on joint projects that would benefit two or more gewogs in addition to the gewog-level projects.

Observers say that the number of young and educated voters has increased over the past five years and that it is likely to have some impact in terms of who will be elected in the upcoming elections.

The CLGR executive director said that the upcoming local governments must exercise the authority and functions given by the LG Act to reduce corruption and enhance budget utilisation. “Currently, LG members have not been able to exercise even 50 percent of their roles and functions as required by LG Act,” he said.

He said that the LG must prioritise investment of block grants in income and employment generating activities.

LGs today exercise greater flexibility in planning, budgeting and release of budgets. About 50 percent of the national budget is provided to local governments as block grants.

There are 205 gewogs and 1,044 chiwogs in the country. Elections of dzongkhag thromde thueme of dzongkhag towns would also be held along with the gewog elections.

The third thromde election in Samdrupjongkhar will also be held along with the gewog elections as the tenure of the present thromde tshogde will end in October, according to officials. Samdrupjongkhar thromde election was delayed in the first election due to the lack of candidates.

The ECB has notified that informal campaigning before the announcement of the election date is prohibited, saying that some of the aspiring candidates are carrying out informal election campaigning.

The commission notified that such campaignings would violate electoral laws and shall be dealt as per the electoral laws.