The grim weather forecast and the dark clouds gathering in the morning didn’t deter Bhutanese from coming out to take part in the third National Council (NC) elections held across the country yesterday.
The election saw a record 54.3 percent of Bhutanese turn up to cast their votes to elect the 20 representatives. Of the 432,030 eligible voters, 169,623 voters turned up to cast their vote at the 866 polling stations across the country.
In what is another record, 42,441 voted through the 69 postal ballots facilitation booths and nine mobile facilitation booths on April 12, 13, 14 and 15. About 22,471 availed the conventional postal ballot facility.
This is an increase of nine percent from the voter turnout in 2013, where 171,564 of the total 379,819 eligible voters cast their votes.
The increase in the voter turnout is attributed to the Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) initiative of starting postal ballot facilitation and mobile facilitation booth, as there was an increase of about 65 percent in postal ballot voters. Only 23,967 people cast their votes through postal ballot in 2013.
ECB’s head of Department of Election, Sonam Tobgyal, said while the voter turnout increased, their topmost priority was to ensure that the election was free and fair.
“It was a successful process. There were no major issues and the voters were able to exercise their franchise,” he said. He explained that the ECB does not set any expectation of the voter turnout but expects it to increase. “We are glad that it increased by a huge margin.”
Meanwhile, the 20 council elects from the 127 candidates are in the age bracket of 31 to 54 years and come from a diverse background of teaching, business, consultancy and legal. An actor and a journalist were also among the council elects.
Only five of the 12 incumbents who re-contested made through the election.
Thimphu’s representative Nima Gyeltshen, Haa’s Tshering Dorji, Chukha’s Pema Tenzin, Mongar’s Sonam Wangchuk, Trashiyangtse’s Tashi Phuntsho, Trongsa’s Tharchen and Sarpang’s Dhan Bahadur Monger lost the election.
However, Bumthang’s representative Nima, Lhuentse’s Tempa Dorji, Wangduephodrang’s Tashi Dorji, Samdrupjongkhar’s Jigme Wangchuk and Zhemgang’s Pema Dakpa are back in the house of review. Jigme Wangchuk will be the longest serving candidate winning three consecutive terms.
This year’s election also saw two of the six women candidates make through the election. In the 2013 NC elections, none of the five women candidates were elected. Both the women council elect, Lhaki Dolma from Punakha and Sonam Pelzom from Mongar, won with good majority. Lhaki Dolma won by 822 votes more and Sonam Pelzom by 272 votes.
However, there were reports of technical glitches with the electronic voting machines in some areas, with officials even having to replace machines and many cases where people who registered for postal ballot turned up to vote at the polling stations.
In some areas, people who did not turn 18 years but were issued with VPIC for NA elections came to vote. Presiding officers had to send them back.
Sonam Tobgay explained the technical glitches occurred because some voters pressed too hard on the EVM button. “We sent two EVMs to the polling stations to ensure the voting is not affected.”
Late last night, at the ECB head office in Kawajangsa, officials were seen running around, attending calls from returning officers and voters, explaining to the commissioners, who received complaints, compiling voter turnout and arranging things for live coverage.
By 5pm, an official who looked after electoral rolls said he is glad the day is over. “I nearly went crazy,” he said.
The ECB will declare the official results today.