What is common at the common forums is the poor attendance, so poor that it is embarrassing for the candidates who came prepared to be met with only a few faces. The essence of the forum is to give candidates a platform to articulate their plans, share pledges and engage with voters before poll day. Regrettably, this objective is falling short.

 In North Thimphu, for instance, a mere six voters out of the 7,607 registered voters came to listen to the two candidates on December 21. The entourage of the candidates outnumbered the voters making it an awkward situation both for the candidates and the voters. If Thimphu is a busy city with people having no time to listen to campaign pledges, it is no better in others. 

Nine people out of 599 registered voters in Khamaed-Lunana constituency came to attend the common forum. It is the same in many places as party candidates visit their constituency. In Thrimshing, Trashigang, a meagre 33 people turned up for the event.

The glaring question remains: Why are people not attending common forums? Have they already made up their minds, or do they consider the forums inadequate for assessing a candidate? Could voter fatigue be a factor?  The numbers suggest that many perceive the discussions as repetitive, assuming they know what candidates will say—a perception that devalues the forums as a productive use of time. Those who do attend might do so out of obligation, stemming from relationships with candidates who are friends or relatives. 

A lot depends on the enthusiastic party workers or coordinators who have already “convinced” whom to vote, or voters who have given their assurance. A lot is taken for granted. 

The average voter, if not decided, wants the forum to be interesting, including heated debate and accusation, if not funny moments for social media memes. Others feel that the format of the common forum should be different and candidates given the freedom to express beyond predetermined pledges. Many concur that the forums often echo information already known or heard during the primary round.

Common forums are designed to facilitate communication between candidates and voters, enabling voters to comprehend a party or candidate ideologies.  For neutral voters, a candidate’s conduct and persuasive abilities play a crucial role in making informed decisions. Sadly, this intended purpose is not being fully utilised.

In the absence of  the door-to- door campaigns, common forums serve as a pivotal opportunity for candidates to sway voters or for voters to scrutinise the candidates. This is a platform where candidates could be tested on their capabilities, understanding of issues,  moving beyond mere repetition of party pledges. However, this potential remains largely unrealised, with some viewing forum attendance as a mere obligation.

Examining how common forums are conducted and understanding voter interest in these events could be a key takeaway in the post-election “learning from experience” process. The Election Commission of Bhutan might need to reassess the utility of common forums if they are not effectively serving their intended purpose, potentially saving valuable resources.