MB Subba

The country’s voter population has increased to 463,040, a 15 percent increase from the second local government (LG) election held in 2016, according to the electoral roll.

This means that 13 percent, or 60,951 of the total voters, will be choosing their LG candidates for the first time. They are in the age group of 18 to 22 years.

However, close observers say that the entry of new voters will not make much difference in the LG election, which will be held on December 22.

Family connections and personal links could play more significant roles than qualifications and professionalism of candidates, according to Tharchen, executive director of the Centre for Local Governance and Research.

The trend, he said, could continue until everyone is educated and the need for qualified candidates who can deliver services professionally is felt. Tharchen, however, added that money would not play much of a role in LG elections, due to the ECB’s restrictions on the use of money in LG elections.

A candidate can spend up to Nu 75,000 in expenses such as payment for daily sustenance allowance (DSA) for polling booth representatives, although serving refreshments and giving money to voters for attending election campaigns is forbidden.

Personal links with members of political parties in the locality is considered one of the important factors determining the election outcomes.

One of the candidates who lost at the nomination zomdu said that the candidates that are close to influential party members are in favourable positions to win the LG election. He said that he did not seek support from party members.

However, officials say that party members are restricted from campaigning on behalf of candidates.

Trashigang’s former Bidung gup, Sonam Phuntsho, said that many were looking for capable candidates with some work experience as their gups. He said gups exercise executive powers at the gewog level.

An aspiring gup from Pemagatshel said that voters were mainly looking at the candidates’ public relations and past service records.

Voters, he said, mainly preferred middle-aged candidates with some education. “People at the gewog level are not as concerned about highly qualified candidates, as much as whether they can deliver services,” he said.

A voter said that involvement in religious and cultural activities could determine the electability of the candidates besides other factors. “Doing things like going to the cremation ground will matter for candidates,” he said.

Common forums, which have started, are one of the platforms for voters to judge their candidates.

Samdrupjongkhar’s former Langchenphu gup, Guman Singh Gaylal, said some candidates could convince voters through common forums. The limited time allotted for each speaker, he said, is the limitation of common forums.

Some observers, however, say that common forums do not make much difference, as voters have already made their choices. “There could be only a few undecided voters in the common forums,” he said.

Postal voters, who consist of students and those staying outside the dzongkhag, are expected to play a decisive role in the outcomes of the elections.

A young voter said that he would vote for young and educated candidates. “Today’s local leaders should use modern technologies while delivering services efficiently,” he said.

However, a few youth voters who Kuensel talked to said they would go by their parents’ choices. “It’s difficult for me to choose a candidate, as I have not lived in my village,” he said.

Schools in the country will be closed for the winter vacation on the poll day.

The ECB’s spokesperson, Phub Dorji, said that whether students will vote through postal ballots or in person has been taken care of, depending on their choice. “If they have registered for postal ballots, they will vote accordingly,” he said.

A total of 44,231 voters, of which 4,778 are overseas voters, have registered for conventional postal ballots. In the second LG election, the number of postal voters was 78,218.

The reduction in the number of postal ballots in the third LG election has been attributed to the introduction of paper ballot facilitation and mobile voting booths.

While 95,599 voters have registered for facilitation booths, 15,026 have registered for mobile voting booths, according to ECB.

A Thimphu-based corporate employee said that he had chosen the facilitation booth as he did not fully trust the reliability of postal ballots.

“There are chances that conventional postal ballots could get misplaced and may not reach the intended place on time,” he said, adding that ballots are collected in a more organised manner at facilitation booths.

Of the total voters, 236,837 are female and 226,203 are male as of October 1, which is the qualifying date for the third LG elections.

Female voters outnumber male voters by 10,634. In other words, more than 51 percent of the voters are women.

But past elections show that Bhutanese women do not vote according to gender when it comes to exercising their adult franchise.

A female aspirant pointed out that female local leaders had proven that they are as capable as their male counterparts and that the performance of past female local leaders had built confidence in female candidates.

Candidates began their campaigns on November 25 and will end on December 20.

Edited by Tshering Palden