Staff Reporter  

From voting in record numbers to electing the highest number of women leaders ever, Bhutanese voters have set new records in the third local government (LG) elections that ended yesterday.

The 2021 LG Election, held in 205 gewogs, 1,044 chiwogs, 14 dzongkhag thromdes, and Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag thromde, saw 3,521 candidates contesting for 1,475 posts.

An official from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) said that the multiple voting options initiated by the ECB allowed voters under various categories to vote at their convenience, saving time and money. “The initiative helped voters cast their votes in a staggered manner, lessening the movement of voters from one dzongkhag to another, minimising crowding on poll day, and mitigating the risk of Covid-19 local transmission.”

“Further, we provided the senior citizens, people with disabilities, and voters with physical infirmities with door-to-door voting services from the comfort of their homes through mobile voting booths (MVB) and paper ballot facilitation booths (PBFB),” he said. In some of the areas with difficult geographical terrain, election officials walked eight to 10 hours to reach these voters.

Breaking all past records, the ECB received 126,304 postal ballots, (37,866 In-country and Overseas PB, 77,748 PBFB and 10,690 MVB), nearly four times more than the 35,051 recorded during the 2016 LG Elections, according to the ECB official.

The different voting options provided by the ECB were well received from all quarters, as is evident from the overwhelming voter turnout of 68.42 percent. This is an increase of 12.6 percent, compared to the 2016 LG Elections. The unprecedented increase in voter turnout even surpassed the 2018 Parliamentary Elections in terms of the total number of votes. This year, a total of 316,798 voters exercised their franchise compared to 313,473 in the 2018 Parliamentary Elections.

“Such voter turnout for LG elections is a massive achievement, and the record is here to stay for a long time to come,” the official said.

This election also saw a surge in the election of women leaders, especially in the election of gewog thrizins or gups. The election of seven women as gups was an increase of 250 percent in comparison to the 2016 LG Elections. In all, women in the LG positions increased from 151 in 2016 to 183 during the 2021 LG Elections.

   Voter at Nimshong Primary School polling station

Voter at Nimshong Primary School polling station

The ECB official said that there were other positive changes this election.

Out of the 260 candidates who contested with masters and bachelor’s degree certificates, 107 have been elected. “This result, in a way, confirms the importance accorded to the LG by the voters and candidates alike.”

The ECB attributed these achievements to the effective voter education and electoral awareness programmes carried out in all the villages of 205 gewogs.

“The voter educational materials developed in the form of videos and posters reached out to voters across the country through broadcast, print, and social media platforms focusing on the electoral participation of every individual, as well as women and people with disabilities,” the official said. “The success also reflects the hard work, cooperation and collaboration extended by the relevant agencies and government machinery.”

“Although the ECB had officially announced that the results of the 2021 LG Elections would only be declared on December 23, 2021, a day after the poll day, it may be clarified that it had always remained the aspiration of the ECB to make concerted efforts towards announcing the provisional results on the same night through the live BBS TV coverage before voters and candidates retired to bed,” he said.

“The third LG Elections, unlike in the past, were conducted under exceptional circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic and every initiative pursued was carefully analysed and assessed through a meticulous review of all the pros and cons,” the official said.

He said that the nation’s priority of mitigating the risk of local Covid-19 transmission was accorded utmost importance to ensure that all the painstaking initiatives and measures put in place, over the past two years, under His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo’s dynamic leadership, were not compromised in any manner whatsoever.

However, the official said that the ECB was aware that every election comes with new challenges.

“Notwithstanding the preparations put in place, the counting and consolidation of the results was a demanding task, especially at the Returning Officer’s level,” he said.

The requirement to count a large number of votes from Conventional Postal Ballots, both In-country and Overseas’ Paper Ballot Facilitation Booths’ Mobile Voting Booths’ and EVMs spread over 205 gewogs, involving more than 3,521 candidates contesting for 1,475 LG posts, had to be consolidated, verified, and transmitted to the National Results Center, which took a lot more than the ECB’s estimated time.

“Nevertheless, as notified in the October 27 announcement, the ECB made a formal declaration of results for the 2021 LG Elections on December 23,” the ECB official said.