Tough call for ECB

The ECB is expected to allow the affected voters to vote from their respective gewogs  

LG Election: Following the recent Supreme Court (SC) writ declaring the newly established thromdes unconstitutional, confusion over whether the people can vote from their gewogs that form part of the thromdes has become an issue.

The SC has declared all thromdes, except for Thimphu, “unconstitutional”. In such a case, observers say the part of the gewog that came within the thromde precincts would automatically fall under the gewog they were part of prior to the delimitation of the thromdes.

Following the issuance of the SC writ, ECB spokesperson Ugyen said the commission received an interpretation letter of the writ from the SC. He said the ECB will take a final decision on how to implement the SC interpretation of the SC writ, after which a notification will be issued.

Voters say that election officials have told the affected voters that they will be allowed to vote from their gewogs.

The director general of the Department of Local Governance (DLG), Lungten Dorji, said the department and the ECB are expected to meet to discuss the issue today. “We have received calls from gewogs about the issue.”

Observers say the delimitation orders should be revoked first if the voters are to be included in their gewogs. But the three dzongkhag thromdes of Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar could be a problem if the thromde delimitation order is to be revoked.

These thromdes were declared unconstitutional just like the 16 new thromdes.

To make the matter more complicated, the SC writ has ordered the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) to hold elections in Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag thromde, which according to the SC writ is unconstitutional. While this is an indication that the delimitation order or the thromde boundary still remains valid, questions over how the ECB can conduct elections in the thromde, which has been declared unconstitutional, remains.

In case the voters are not allowed to vote from their gewogs or chiwogs, they would be deprived of their adult franchise guaranteed by the Constitution. This is because some of the dzongkhag centres will not meet the thromde criteria for some years to come.

The fundamental principle of democracy, according to the writ, is to hold elections through mass participation. The SC states that the size of the urban population is too small and that establishment of dzongkhag and yenlag thromdes is not possible.

If the gewogs legally regain their original shape, the people would automatically be able to vote from the particular gewog.

However, whether or not the thromdes really are unconstitutional remains a contentious issue. If SC’s writ is to be implemented, the thrompon will not be considered a member of the thromde tshogde, in which case, questions on whether or not he should be allowed to participate in the tshogde will be raised.

Lawmakers do not agree with the SC that the thrompon is not a member of the thromde tshogde. They say Constitutional and other legal complications would arise if the thrompon is not a member of the thromde tshogde.

Normally, non-members of an elected body like the gewog tshogde and dzongkhag tshogdu can participate as an observer only. There is no separate law that allows a thrompon to participate as an active member of the thromde tshogde without being its member although the Constitution says that the thrompon’s roles and powers are defined by Parliament.

Article 22, Section 10 of the Constitution states that a dzongkhag thromde tshogde must have a minimum of seven “elected members”, but does not prescribe that there should be “seven constituencies” as stated in the SC writ.

Former gup of Hoongrel in Paro, Sangay, said: “We were called for a meeting where they told us that elections will be held as per the 2011 boundary. But we were told that nothing was official.”  He added that the people were anxious.

Many of those who were included as thromde voters want to vote from their original chiwogs or gewogs. Some voters say that they were included in the thromdes without their knowledge and against their will.

The SC writ was a blow to the government, which promised to set up dzongkhag thromdes in every dzongkhag.

The SC said there is no rationale to conduct thromde elections in all the dzogkhags in one go. It is stated that thromde elections may be conducted as and when it fulfills the criteria as prescribed by the laws.

The SC so declared all the dzongkhag thromdes “unconstitutional” except for Thimphu because the rest of the dzongkhag thromdes have only six constituencies as per the existing delimitations.

MB Subba

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