The nationwide exercise to nominate candidates to contest in the upcoming National Council elections is almost complete.
The Dhamngoi Zomdu process has been fairly smooth, allowing those who were born generations apart to participate in the first step towards electing national council members.
The election commission’s decision to provide Voter Photo Identity Cards (VPIC) to voters on the spot to facilitate the nomination process has been well received and is commendable.
While voters were issued VPICs, we saw that the same service was not extended to the aspirants. Election officials in Dagana’s Drukjeygang gewog disqualified a candidate for not producing his VPIC. The Guidelines for Dhamngoi Zomdu of the Gewog/Dzongkhag Thromde for National Council elections, 2018, do not specifically state that an aspirant has to carry a VPIC at the time of the zomdu.
While aspirants wanting to land a seat in the upper house of the Parliament are briefed and expected to carry all required documents, there is still a need to streamline the procedures of issuing the voters card on the spot. If not, we risk creating a perception that the issuance of voter cards is merely to show high voter turn out and not necessarily to ensure that the voters exercised their right.
To ensure free and fair elections, we have to first ensure that the procedures are fair. Lacuna in procedures could give room to acts that may not be perceived as fair. Take the issuance of tokens to voters who arrive before the poll closes, but have to wait longer to cast their votes. We agree that this system accommodates the rights of the voters, provided the tokens are given to the voters.
In one zomdu, it was observed that a person at the queue had availed the token, only to be handed it over to another who walked in past the poll time. With election officials occupied inside the polling stations, monitoring proxy acts outside may be challenging.
Procedure lapses such as these could be avoided if an election official is stationed outside the polling station, or if those who are given the task take their responsibilities more seriously. Sharing such observations, however, isn’t taken well. It is defended, challenged and also rebuffed, as being merely the way the Bhutanese are. When such concerns are raised, we urge our election officials to take them sportingly.
It is the responsibility of every Bhutanese to ensure a smooth election with procedures that are free and fair to the people. Lapses, if any, are pointed out, not to blame officials, but to get them addressed.
Since Dhamngoi Zomdu is the first process in nominating a candidate, some hiccups are expected. The challenge is to learn from them, not to deny it.