MB Subba

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has opened registration for the functional literacy test (FLT) for the third gewog elections, which will be held towards the end of the year.

However, many aspiring candidates have come to know that either their names are reflected in the membership lists of political parties or the de-registration date do not meet the one-year cooling-off period to contest the upcoming local government (LG) elections.

The membership lists published recently by the ECB show that the number of people affiliated to political parties are significantly large as compared to the past LG elections.

Almost 12,000 people are affiliated to the four political parties; the number was only 871 in the second LG election in 2016. The big increase in the membership of political parties, observers say, could mean decrease in choices of candidates in the upcoming elections given the small population.

According to party offices, aspiring LG candidates who were associated with political parties in the past were either calling or visiting party offices to inquire if their names were reflected in the party membership list.

Kelzang Tashi from Choekorling gewog in Samdrupjongkhar is one of the aspiring candidates who was disappointed to know that he was not eligible to contest the 2021 LG election due to his affiliation to People’s Democracy Party (PDP).

He said he had applied for deregistration in October with a calculation that he would meet the cooling off-period requirement for the upcoming election.

“However, I found that my deregistration is effective only from February 2021, which means that I will not qualify,” he said, adding that he had surrendered his business license to contest the election.

He said that he approached ECB officials. “The ECB said they were not in position to help me. There are many such cases.”

Observers said that more aspiring candidates are expected face similar issues as the election approaches. The incumbent local leaders will complete their terms in October and the election is expected to be held towards the end of the year.

PDP’s general secretary, Kuenga Tashi, said that aspiring candidates who were associated with the party in the past had approached the party office to cross-check whether they were deregistered and that some of them found that they were still members.

“Some of them thought they were deregistered. But a few of them who found their membership active expressed their commitment to stay and work with the party,” he said.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)’s general secretary, Sangay Phurpa, also said that he was explaining the issue to the aspiring candidates who called him and visited his office.

Some of the party members, he said, thought that they would be automatically deregistered if they did not renew their membership but that they should apply in writing to the party.

“A person’s membership will remain active even after its expiry if he or she does not apply for deregistration,” he said.

The general secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Phurba, acknowledged the prevalence of such issues. He added that he had encouraged members who aspired to contest LG elections to deregister in time.

A tshogpa nominee each from Thimphu and Gelephu thromdes was disqualified during the scrutiny process on the grounds of party affiliation in the second thromde election held in April.

Similarly, 16 were disqualified in the 2016 LG elections after election officials found their names in the membership lists of political parties.

Party officials blame a poor record keeping system of the ECB and that some of their former members’ names remain in the list despite having applied for deregistration with the ECB.

The ECB removes the names of members only upon the recommendation of the party. The election Act mandates a cooling-off period of one year to be eligible to contest in LG elections.

Some sources said that many members did not care much about whether they remained registered members or deregistered. According to the officials, many members switch their support after the primaries and remain more aligned with the party they supported in the general election, in which case some of them assume that their membership with the party they supported in the primaries is expired.

An election official said that aspiring LG people had visited the commission office to crosscheck their membership.