MB Subba

The third thromde elections will be held even during the unprecedented situation of the Covid-19 pandemic on April 28, according to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

Phuentsholing thromde is expected to see the election amid the lockdown as locally transmitted Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in the border town.

Elections in the other two thromdes of Thimphu and Gelephu will be held with the Covid-19 protocol.

The ECB’s head of civic and electoral training department, Phub Dorji, said that the commission has worked out separate strategies to conduct the election amid the pandemic and the lockdown situation.

If the lockdown stays till the poll day in Phuentsholing, Phub Dorji said that election officials would visit the houses of voters to collect votes in envelopes, as movement of people will be restricted. “Postal ballots will be issued to the voter who will then cast his or her secret vote, seal the envelope and return it to the election official,” he said.

Voters of Phuentsholing, who are residing in other dzongkhags and planning to cast their votes in polling booths, will not be able to travel to the thromde if the lockdown remains.   

The ECB will mobilise vehicles to collect votes from such voters but they must register with the ECB.

Phub Dorji said that the election commission has made phone calls to almost all the registered voters and located their place of residence. For the first time, the ECB has also issued postal ballots to voters including those in the private sector.

The ECB, he said, would also facilitate mobile booths for voters, who are 65 years and above, which means that election officials will reach ballots at their doorsteps.

The poll will open at 8am and close 6pm. In normal situations, polls will open at 9am and close at 5pm.

“All these measures will reduce crowds on the poll day. Most importantly we want to have a free and fair election and ensure that no Covid-19 is transmitted because of the election,” he said.

He said that the ECB was preparing for such situations since the second lockdown.

It said that it was very important for the elections to be held on time given the importance of thromde services and the legal requirement to hold local government elections within 90 days from the completion of the term.

The Election Act does not have provisions for extension of routine elections.

Phub Dorji said that polling officials have been trained and briefed about the election protocol. “This situation was not unexpected and we have been working vigorously to conduct the election as announced on March 16.”

He said that candidates were using social media to campaign during the lockdown. Except in Phuentsholing thromde, the lockdown was lifted in Gelephu on April 20. Common forums were completed before the lockdown.

Phub Dorji said that the arrangement has been possible, given the small numbers of voters in the thromdes.

According to the population and housing census of Bhutan 2017, Thimphu thromde’s population is 114,551, but there are only 8,007 registered voters.

Phuentsholing thromde’s population is 27,658, but the city has only 932 registered voters. In Gelephu, the number of thromde residents is 9,858, but the number of registered voter is 1,542.