The results of the third National Council election yesterday, conducted in a free and fair atmosphere, without major hiccups, was a call for change.
Most of the 234,545 voters surprised the incumbent members. Only five of the 12 incumbent councillors who made it to the final round were re-elected. Campaigning on the experience in law making didn’t convince voters, who perhaps expected more than that from their representatives. Voters also surprised candidates who were, what people thought, ‘sure shot’ candidates.
Whether there is an anti-incumbency mood is difficult to say, but going by the results, people voted for change. Anti-incumbency is the most frequently cited reason in elections where political parties or candidates make promises and voters assess them on the performance. The National Council is a house of review and candidates are hand-tied compared with the Assembly members. Their responsibility is reviewing laws and policies. Pledging development activities or promising what is beyond their power would backfire. Many voters, convinced from campaign speeches, expect returns from the candidate they elect.
With the experience of voting in three parliamentary elections, Bhutanese voters are becoming wiser, if not unpredictable. They know how and whom to vote. At a polling station in Thimphu, two elderly men were heard discussing the candidates. They agreed that there should be change. The incumbent lost by a huge margin.
Another big change was that the people elected at least two of the six women candidates this time. This is an increase of 200 percent, at least in figures. The four other candidates also fared well although they lost. Women voters should be encouraged, especially at a time when certain corners are asking quota for women in the Parliament.
The other change was brought by the postal ballot facilitation booth set up across the country. The facility led to increase in voter turnout by about 65 percent from the last council election. The facility made the difference for some candidates – those who got elected and those who did not. This facility could play a major role in the Assembly elections later this year.
Bhutanese voters also voted for a set of representatives at the prime age of their life. The average age of the 20 councillors-elect is 40. The oldest is 54 and the youngest 31. They come from a diverse background and experience, which is essential for a law-making body. There are teachers, entrepreneurs, planners, lawyers, an actor, and a journalist. There are ample policies and legislations that need to be reviewed in the fields they represent.
The people have put their trust on them for the next five years. How well they fare will be judged after five years.