Local leaders: Money and incumbency have advantage

LG: With no campaign fund from the state, incumbent local leaders in Trongsa and Bumthang feel that money and incumbency could shape the outcome of upcoming 2016 Local Government (LG) elections in most of the 205 gewogs.

“Money and incumbency can make a huge difference in the outcome of upcoming LG elections under private financing of campaign funds,” Korphu Gup Tsheltrim Dorji said, adding that without campaign fund, for many even entering the contest would be challenging.

Tsheltim Dorji said that under such circumstances, many competent, qualified and deserving candidates vying for LG posts could also be deprived of opportunity.

Earlier, local leaders’ plead for campaign fund in LG election was turned down.

“The previous and current governments dismissed campaign funds despite the recommendations from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and local leaders,” Nubi Gup Tashi Pendhen.

Campaign fund is mandatory in LG elections to rent office space, equipment, travel, and advertisement, representative’s payment, stationery and utility bills.

While aspirants of National Council and National Assembly are entitled to Nu 120,000 campaign fund, no such funding is provided for local leader aspirants.

Even during 2011 LG elections, the contenders vying for various local government posts had to self-finance their campaigns.

“The rule remains unchanged even now and the contenders still have to fund their own campaign activities as per the ceiling prescribed in the election act,” said Trongsa’s electoral officer, Needup.

LG candidates then have to file their returns with the national observer and micro observer within 30 days of the declaration of the results as mandated under the public election fund. No refunds are made upon filing the return though.

Pema Tashi, who contested in recent Langthel gup bye-election, said covering areas is difficult when electioneering is done under self-financing.

“Without campaign fund, if aspirants can’t afford, they would have to compromise the campaigns giving an edge to their opponent,” Pema Tashi said.

Langthel Gup Sonam Dendup, who was elected recently during bye-elections, said it is challenging to stand for elections without campaign funds. “I had to limit the campaigns because of spiraling expenses especially from car fuel, which wasn’t refunded.” He added that representatives also had to be paid because getting people is difficult despite offering Nu 500 per day.

Local leaders feel that people with money to spare afford an elaborate campaign.

“Even the outcome of the elections could be determined by money since only those who can afford elaborate campaigns could get elected while those who can’t from want of funds might lose despite being better candidate,” Ura Gup Dorji Wangchuk said.

Tashi Pendhen said that under existing system of self-financed campaigns, level-playing field is also undermined and electioneering is now becoming privilege for better off aspirants. “Without the state fund, most cannot carry out even door-to-door campaign.”

Lack of funds is likely to affect the new entrants more than incumbents. According to Dorji Wangchuk, while avoiding campaigns would make little difference for existing local leaders, absence of funds would affect the new players by large.

“Because for those of us re-contesting, even without campaigning voters already know us, but without funds, new players could lose if they can’t campaign enough despite their abilities,” Dorji Wangchuk said.

The local leaders say that the government’s refusal to give campaign fund has made LG an underemphasized institution in the democratic set up.

Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa

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