Tsirang dzongkhag’s election dispute settlement body has asked Tsholingkhar gup Passang Thingh Tamang to pay a fine of Nu 3,750 yesterday for giving grounds to reasonably construe support to a National Council (NC) aspirant during the dhamngoi zomdu conducted in the gewog on March 3.

The committee has also warned the gup to avoid in giving any reasonable grounds to construe support, opposition or dislike for any candidates contesting the upcoming election.

A NC aspirant, Ram Kumar Neopaney, who lost by 43 votes in the gewog nomination filed a complaint with the dispute settlement body on March 5, stating that the gup influenced voters and also asked for a bribe. He lodged the complaint with five allegations.

The election dispute settlement body registered the case on March 8.

The eight-page decision of the body stated that the penalty was levied on the gup in accordance to section 19.1.1 and section 29.1.1 of the Election Dispute Settlement Rules and Regulations 2018 and in accordance with findings under 6.5 which mitigates the circumstance under section 23 (a) of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004.

Ram Kumar Neopaney alleged that the gup went around spreading false information about him. The gup refuted the allegation saying he was simply performing his official duties to inform the voters to attend the zomdu.

The complainant also alleged the gup of asking a bribe of Nu 25,000 but the gup explained that he never asked for a bribe but asked to borrow the money, which could be returned later.

The dispute settlement body concluded that Ram Kumar Neopaney and the gup had a history of lending money.  The body verified by checking the bank statements of the complainant and the defendant and found that there were no transactions between them.

On the allegation of predetermining the results of the dhamngoi zomdu, the gup explained that he had told Ram Kumar to remain vigilant and alert. “The defendant’s ‘friendly advise’ had been taken wrongfully as predetermination of the result,” the body concluded.

Although the complainant submitted three voice recordings as evidence, the body concluded that it could not be accepted as evidence since it was a private conversation and also because he did not seek the defendant’s permission to record the conversation.

The dispute settlement body also concluded that Tsholingkhar gewog’s nominee, Sangay Tamang, submitted that he did not have any personal bonding with the gup. “Another person under the same chiwog further verified that the terms between Sangay Tamang and the gup were not good after Sangay Tamang’s father almost manhandled the gup in the past.”

It was also found and verified that the gup and the complainant were close friends and used to be together on most occasions.

The body concluded that because they were close friends and neighbours, exchange of dialogues was normal course of action.

An investigation committee met with the dhamngoi zomdu voters to verify if the gup influenced the voters from five chiwogs on March 10 and 232 voters told the investigating team that they exercised their adult franchise at their own free will.

The body also warned the complainant for questioning the de jure (right) of the gup, who was ipso facto (fact or act) discharging his official’s duties rather than immediately filing a complaint to the body, whereby undermining the authority of the gewog.

The complainant and the defendant could appeal to the central election dispute settlement body within five days if they are not satisfied with the decision.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang