LG: As chiwog zomdus for the second local government (LG) continues, loopholes in the electoral laws and process have emerged.

In the recently held zomdu at Damji chiwog in Khamaed gewog of Gasa, a former monk, Kinley Penjore, was selected as the nominee for the post of gup. However, his happiness was short-lived.

Four days after the zomdu, he received a call from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), saying that he was a registered member of the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP). A member of a political party is disqualified from contesting in the LG elections.

Kinley Penjore claims that the party had renewed his membership without his knowledge. “I never renewed my membership,” he said.

As per the BKP’s charter, party membership should be renewed annually.

He assumed that his membership had automatically expired. “I called the BKP general secretary, and he confirmed that I was a member of the party,” he said.

The then party’s general secretary, Karma Jimba, however, said that a member should apply in writing to the party office for deregistration. “A member does not  automatically get deregistered; he or she has to apply at our party office,” he said.

According to him, the ECB removes the name of members only upon the recommendation of the party.

The BKP charter states that a registered member may withdraw his or her membership from the party by notifying the party office in writing.

However, it also states: “A member has to renew his or her membership every year during the period prescribed for the same by remitting the annual membership fee.” The charter also states that membership will be revoked if the annual membership fee is not paid within 30 days from the date of such request as aforesaid unless the competent authority in the party extends such a deadline.

The other candidate was a graduate, who had a chance of making it to the final round had it not been for Kinley Penjore’s candidature at the zomdu. If the scrutiny was done before the zomdu, he said the issue would not have propped up and that the graduate had a fair chance to be nominated from the chiwog.

“Now both of us lost the opportunity,” he said. “The problem is with the ECB and the electoral laws,” he said, adding that the commission should have verified his membership before the zomdu.

Also, the chiwog will be left without a nominee if his disqualification is confirmed.

An election official from Gasa, Karma Tshering, said no final decision has been taken as the candidate has not filed his nomination papers. The final decision will be taken by the Returning Officer upon filing of nomination papers.

Returning Officer Ugyen Chophel said the candidate had not come for nomination. Kinley Penjore is not likely to file nomination papers.

As per the election Act, a member of a political party should have attained a cooling period of one year to be eligible to contest in the elections.

A registered voter of a chiwog who fulfills the criteria as prescribed in Section 178 of the Election Act is eligible to be nominated as a candidate. According to the ECB’s Strategy for the Conduct of Local Government Elections 2016, a candidate shall be categorically asked on the status of every criteria required of a candidate by the election authority.

This is aimed at determining the eligibility of the person aspiring to be nominated as a candidate. However, the laws do not prescribe that all the required documents for nomination should be produced during the zomdu.

The scrutiny of documents and details of the candidates are only done during the nomination process after the zomdu. This system allows a voter to stand as a candidate even without obtaining all the required documents.

Such an incident was reported in the first LG election in 2011 as well. One of the two candidates in a chiwog of Tsirang, who was selected through a zomdu, later was disqualified.

As per the nomination process, the candidate selected at a zomdu should complete and file his or her nomination papers with the returning officer. Some candidates contest at the zomdu with the hope of processing the documents like audit clearance.

Meanwhile, voters and candidates also point out other flaws in the election process, such as the lack of prescribed timing of voting in a zomdu. In one of the zomdus in Tsholingkhar gewog of Tsirang, a candidate lost to his opponent by a few votes.

But more voters turned up after the voting results were declared. It was said that most of the voters who turned up after the voting was closed were of the losing candidate.

Some candidates and voters also do not like the requirement for a tshogpa candidate to produce signatures of at least five percent of the registered voters from the chiwog supporting his or her nomination. The signatures should be collected from at least five different households and no voter or household has supported more than one nominee.

A voter from Punakha said the requirement was irrational. “It’s completely irrational to ask a tshogpa candidate to collect signatures as a criterion for nomination,” he said, adding that voters would automatically make their choice at the polls.

However, if potential candidates are not able to collect the required number of signatures due to lack of adequate number of voters in that chiwog, officials would immediately forward the case to ECB for directives.

MB Subba