3.7 percent of the registered voters turned up at the common forums 

Election: If it were a class, the teacher would call off the day. Two speakers and three election observers outnumbered those present in the classroom in Changangkha school on January 9.

It was the common forum for the thrompon election. The class went ahead. The two men and as many women and an ineligible voter, a boy listened attentively.

On Tuesday, the attendance was much better. There were 35 at the common forum in the Dechencholing-Taba constituency as the lone Thimphu thrompon candidate Kinlay Dorjee wrapped up his common forum campaign.

The turn up translates to about one person for every four households in the constituency with 616 voters. It was worse at Changangkha.

If this were anything to go by, only a handful of the capital’s registered voters would elect the thrompon on January 25.

Altogether, about 274 people or 3.7 percent of the thromde’s 7,278 registered voters turned up at the recently concluded zomdus. This is, by far, too small a turn up even without taking into account the city’s more than 100,000 population. Even if all the 7,278 registered voters turn up on January 25, only 7 percent of the capital’s resident would be voting.

In the first thromde election in 2011, the voter turnout was 50.75 percent for thrompons and 44.68 for tshogpas.

The turnout on the poll day could increase, but the poor turnout at the zomdus is still a concern. Critics say that only a handful of people are electing the thromde.

Kinlay Dorjee has the advantage of going to a “yes” and “no” poll day, but shares the concerns of the poor participation. However, he said his campaign pledges are not only for the registered voters.

“My campaign promises are for all the residents who pay their bills in the city,” Kinlay Dorjee said. But with the current scenario, he said, there is a possibility in future that non-voter residents would be treated as second-class citizens.

Thimphu’s voter population could shoot up if people who own properties in the thromde transfer their census from their villages. A lot of people own buildings and plots in the thromde but still keep their census in their ancestral homes.

“Right now many people spend 90 percent of their life in the city without transferring their census,” Kinlay Dorjee said.

Thimphu is growing

With increased rural-urban migration, the growth of non-voter population is expected to outpace the growth of voter population. According to the National Statistics Bureau, Bhutan’s urban population is projected to grow at an annual rate of 4.2 percent.

President of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Dr Tandin Dorji, whose party last year proposed for residential voting, said he was concerned that only a few registered residents would be electing the chief executive officer of their thromde. This, he said, means that rest of the residents do not have any say in the development of the thromde they live in.

“For instance, though my census is in Punakha, I pay my bills in Thimphu. But I have absolutely no say in the election of the thrompon,” he said.

The DNT President said his party believes that all those who pay bills and own properties should be allowed to vote in thromde elections. “Though the country has learned lessons from past elections, relevant institutions have been reluctant to initiate any change,” he said.

He said many people from the thromde are residing in other dzongkhags and that they should also be allowed to vote from the place of their residence. “All are not eligible for postal ballots, but they should be able to vote from where they reside,” he said.

In the second biggest town, Phuentsholing thrompon candidate Tsheten Dorji said the thromde had requested people to transfer their census but to no avail. “We have no say in the voting system as we are governed by the local government Act,” he said.

For the thromde of 30,000 residents, only 776 voters are eligible to vote in Phuentsholing. The voter population is roughly over 2.5 percent of the total residents.

Similarly, voters consist of about 8.5 percent of Gelephu thromde’s total population. There are 1,121 eligible voters in the thromde of 13,000 people.

Voter apathy?

While the low voter populations and turn up in the thromdes are a matter of concern, Dr Tandin Dorji said the fact that there are even fewer voters in new thromdes mean that future scenarios will be even worse. The election commission is expected to hold elections in rest of the dzongkhag thromdes later this year.

“There seems to be some apathy among the general public about the local government elections though the election commission has been trying to create awareness,” he said. “The low voter turn up is not the election commission’s fault,” he added.

The election commission is, however, confident that the voter turn up on the poll day will improve from what it was recorded at the zomdus and common forums.

Officiating director for the department of electoral registration and delimitation Sonam Tobgay said, “Usually, the trend is that the voter turn up shoot up on the poll day though fewer people show up for the zomdus.”

The officiating director said that the election commission informed the people through various means such as media and posters. “People should honour their fundamental duties so as to make the democracy vibrant with their involvement and representations in the electoral process,” he said.

MB Subba