The Election Commission of Bhutan doing away with the facilitation and mobile voting booth, and restricting postal ballot facility, many fear, would result in a poor voter turnout this election year. Voting day for the National Council election is on April 20. There are doubts, concerns and fears that we will see the lowest voter turnout.

At a glance, there is an increase in the number of people who registered for postal ballots. There are about 105,753 voters who registered for the postal ballot facility. Out of this, 105,077 are from within the country – civil servants, their spouses and those eligible for the facility. There are  only 676 eligible postal ballot voters from overseas. The guesstimate is that there are more than 20,000 eligible voters outside Bhutan.

The increase in postal ballot registration is misleading. It could be because the facility is  extended to Desuups. There are more than 38,000 Desuups eligible voters inflating the number. With only a handful eligible for postal ballot given the new postal ballot restrictions, it  could affect turnout.

To be fair for the ECB, facilitation or mobile booths are not mandated by the election Act. It was the most sensible idea to enable people to participate in the electoral process. The election Act does not specify facilitation booths. However, elections are more participatory when there are more voters. And voters will come out to participate when it is made convenient for them. This is so true for countries like ours where it takes days to travel from one dzongkhag to another.

The facilitation booth idea was a master stroke on the part of ECB. It takes, for instance, five days for a voter in Haa to travel to Yangtse to vote when he is not eligible for PB. Voters time their annual visit to the village during elections. They go home, meet their relatives, conduct their choku, vote and come back. For many, it is important to show their face to the candidate as a proof that they came to support!

In the current scenario, it could prove more difficult. With all focus on profit making or driving performance, employers whether in the government, corporate or state owned enterprises  would want their employees to not miss on the targets. Doing away with the facilitation booths has put HR managers in a fix. Right to vote is a fundamental right. Planning leave in advance is mandatory in many organisations. The one day poll day is the right of the employee. The travelling days are not.

Offices will have to close business for at least three days if they grant all their employees leave to enable them to vote. Elections and voting, some are starting to feel, is a mundane thing when the focus is on performance and profit making.

The NC elections are not as exciting as the Assembly elections. What we learn from the NC elections could be used to amend our rules and let elections in the country be as participatory as what democracy means.