Preparations are in full swing for the 2018 parliamentary elections that will mark the 10th year of a successful democracy, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) stated.

ECB has entered the pre-election period with the issuance of a public advisory prohibiting religious and other events involving public during the election period.  According to ECB, the election periods start from February to May 2018 for the National Council and August to October 2018 for the National Assembly.

However, in an email interview with Kuensel, ECB stated that it would allow some unavoidable events such as technical and international meetings on a case-by-case basis.

The commission stated it would ensure that no political parties or candidates would be involved in those permitted events and that they would not be used in any way for electoral gains.

The ban on events would not apply to non-partisan national events. “The 21st of February, His Majesty The King’s birth anniversary is a non-partisan national event and should by all means be celebrated as usual,” the commission said.

ECB is currently reviewing arrangements related to public debates, postal ballots, human resource deployment, polling stations, media arbitrator’s office and public election campaign fund among other activities. It is also finalising various rules, regulations and guidelines, which would give a detailed legal context for electoral procedures and protocols.

“Election materials for the elections are also being procured and will soon be dispatched to the dzongkhag election offices,” ECB said. “The third parliamentary elections 2018 are indeed just around the corner.”

The commission said that it is educating people on the requirements of the candidates to contest in the parliamentary elections.

Separate election strategies for all 20 dzongkhags have been prepared to increase voter turnout. According to ECB, those strategies are being implemented in respective dzongkhags.

On whether ECB feels the need to improve its performance in making elections successful, the ECB stated, “There are always lessons to be learned from and also to innovate from the conduct of an election to the next. ECB takes past successes as inspiration to continually learn and achieve the highest standards possible.”

Participation of women as candidates has been dismal both in the local government elections and parliamentary elections although more women turn up to cast their votes at the polling booths. Out of the 128 national council aspirants who registered with ECB for seminars, only seven were women.

Seminars were conducted for aspiring national council candidates to disseminate information on key legal framework and other required documents to participate as candidates.

ECB stated that as an election management body, it is facilitating both women and men to participate meaningfully in elections. ECB also urges media houses to fulfill their vital role in order to help the electorate take a well-informed decision.

MB Subba