Dechen Dolkar

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has estimated a budget of Nu 444.321 million (M) to conduct the fourth National Assembly elections 2023-24.

The ECB spent Nu 319.11M in 2013 elections and Nu 439.65M in 2018 elections.

The commission spent Nu 54.25M for election campaign fund and Nu 234.69M for travel in-country in 2018 elections.

However, for the fourth National Assembly elections is expected to increase the cost since there are five political parties contesting the elections.

There will be a total of 809 polling stations for the fourth National Assembly elections.

The ECB has deployed 47 returning officers and 47 national observers. They were trained from October 30 to November 1 and were deployed to their respective place of duty.

According to an official from the ECB, they were sent directly to the place of duty to reduce travel costs.

The ECB will also deploy more than 3,236 polling officials and security personnel.

It was learnt that the ECB faced difficulties in getting the returning officers and national observers for election duty.

The ECB wrote to all ministries and agencies in September requesting them to submit the list of the officials interested in serving in the conduct of fourth National Assembly elections. The commission received 110 nominations.

However, it was learnt that many officials withdrew and were unwilling to go after learning about certain changes to benefits and heightened risks.

In the past elections, civil servants were rushed to undertake election duty. However, due to the high risk associated with the elections and the provision of only 50 percent daily substance allowance from the second month of deployment. They will be deployed for more than two months.

There was an incident in the third local government elections, where the dzongkhag court convicted two election officials and withheld their annual increments for two years. One of the gup candidates allegedly accused officials for influencing of voters, and she was placed in a different dzongkhag. However, the High Court dismissed the case in 2022.

The election officials also said that the commission has extended postal ballot services to critical sectors, such as tourism, private school teachers, and some of the Druk Holding and Investments companies and State-owned enterprises.

“They need to provide continuous services during the election period, so ECB has considered extending postal ballot services to them,” an official said.