The general election period has begun.
The political parties have fielded their initial candidates and, unlike the last round, this election period, despite the rumours, saw no candidates swapping parties.
As the country launches itself to elect the third government, the election commission has to be commended for the efforts it put in conducting the primary round in a free and fair manner. It made voting possible from any part of the country and abroad, saving the cost and anxiety of travel to villages for most voters. We saw the result of this move in increased voter turnout at the postal ballot facilitation booths. Its initiatives have defied geography and in doing so, the commission has ensured that the third parliamentary elections are as inclusive and representative as a democracy is expected to be.
While some problems are expected, an issue that tends to reoccur during election time is EVM voters being wrongly registered as postal voters or vice-versa. Disgruntled voters have walked into the election commission office on poll day, charging officials for the error that neither accepts of committing. This issue needs attention, not so much to see who is wrong or right but to ensure that such oversight does not happen again. The commission’s announcement to the people to verify their details through the mainstream media could be supplemented with SMS messages so that more voters are reached. There are also reports of some voters receiving blank ballot papers and some voters in the private sector not being extended the postal ballot facility. The responsibility to inform election officials of such errors and to verify their registration details falls on the voters. Charging election officials is wrong.
With festivals punctuating the election period, the embargo on public activities that the election commission has put in appears to be loosely imposed. The Cabinet has already directed the deferred Chukha and Jakar tshechu to be held as scheduled. The dzongkhag administration has requested postal ballot facilities for those who will be involved in the tshechu. Our masked dancers and performers will be on their feet as much as the election officials and the politicians.
The campaign period has started and, while both the parties have said it would not indulge in partisan politics, the politicking on social media tells otherwise. But with every election, we have learnt that the Bhutanese electorate remains as elusive as it is unpredictable. We have learnt and understood that all our other rights rest on our right to vote and that elections are as much about political parties as they are about the people and the country.
As we prepare to head to the polls we must remember that the democratic process the country has embarked on is an enlightened initiative from the Throne. It is our responsibility to hold a good election. It is our responsibility to make it work.