Like in every election so far, who wins or loses is largely dependent on how many coordinators a political party or a candidate can keep on the ground. This means how many influential people a party or a candidate can keep hold of the support base. Quite often, it is not in line with the regulations.

By law, a political party is not allowed to appoint more than a coordinator in a dzongkhag, a constituency, one in each gewog and chiwog. Apart from the legally appointed coordinators, no one is allowed to carry out election campaigning for a candidate. 

This is the rule on paper. On the ground, it is otherwise. The number of coordinators depends on how much a political party or a candidate can afford. Afford here means violating election regulations. Parties and candidates know that the number of coordinators would result in votes. A political party before the primary round claimed to have 600 coordinators (also called tshogpas). If a party can ensure 600 coordinators or tshogpas in a constituency, it could mean 1,800 voters (assuming each coordinator has three eligible voters in the family).

Knowing this open secret, political parties were on a recruitment drive. The network of coordinators or tshogpas, party workers as it is also known, has enlarged and penetrated mostly in rural areas. Many of the coordinators do not fit into the normal profile of a party member. They stop villagers from attending campaigns of other parties, depriving them of making informed choices or accusing them of supporting a party or a candidate that the coordinator does not.

Sharing his experience, a candidate who lost badly said that candidates declare the number of coordinators to fulfil election rules and audit campaign funding. Beyond that, he said, how much a candidate spends in recruiting tshogpas, coordinators or party workers is unaccounted for. Nobody, he said, was taken to task for violating the rule for appointing party workers. 

In short, if money can determine election results, it is the same in our elections. Election officials are too busy with the conduct of the elections and cannot investigate if regulations are violated.   In the words of the candidate, who claims to have stayed to the rule, breaching election rules can be exposed only if other authorities including the media can help the election commission implement the rules.

As the media and the election commission depend on evidence to expose or penalise violators, more authorities should be roped in to ensure free and fair elections. 15 years after transitioning to a democracy, one deciding factor in our election that has not changed is signing up large numbers of the populace as party workers or coordinators even if those signing are clueless of what a party or candidate stands for.

Resorting to this tactic deprives the populace of the freedom of choice as members are bound to the party without understanding the beauty of diversity that democracy represents. As we gear up for the general round of the fourth Assembly elections, voters, parties and authorities should look into this to prevent mass recruitment as coordinators and ensure a free and fair election that we aspire for.