PB made a difference in the six eastern dzongkhags in the primary round

As super Tuesday (poll day) approaches, attention shifts to the 117,114 registered postal voters for general elections, which many feel, albeit suspicions and controversies, will decide the 2024 general elections.

In the primary round on November 30, 2023, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won a landslide victory with 83,052 votes on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and 50,165 votes from postal ballots (PB), sweeping 39 constituencies. PDP candidates have been using the results of the primary round as an indicator of securing maximum seats in the general round.

Out of the total 497,058 registered voters, 195,719 voted on the EVMs at 809 polling stations, while 117,443 votes were cast through PB, including overseas votes and the special early voting.

BTP’s candidates, however, are banking on past election trends. They argued that while Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) secured the maximum votes in the 2013 primaries, governments were eventually formed by PDP and DNT during the general elections in 2013 and 2018, respectively.

In the 2013 NA elections, five seats were won by PB difference where candidates lost at the EVM. In the 2018 primary round, where four political parties contested, PDP could not make it to the general elections, although the party secured the highest votes (56,180) in the EVM but lost by a huge PB margin, securing only 23,703 votes.

The country recorded the highest number of postal voters in 2018 when the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) introduced the postal ballot facilitation booth (PBFB) in addition to the existing conventional postal ballot system. Out of the 438,663 registered voters, 133,795 had registered as postal voters, of which 97,870 and 31,267 registered for PBFB and conventional ballots, respectively. NA general elections saw a total voter turnout of 313,473, of which 199,553 were EVM voters, and 113,920 were postal voters.

Some observers pointed out that PBFB played a crucial role in determining the political landscape in 2018. The ECB, however, discontinued PBFB from the fourth parliamentary elections. NA primary elections in 2023 saw 125,949 voters registered as PB, which is the highest number considering only the conventional postal ballot system. However, the number of PB voters declined to 117,114 for the general elections as some voters opted to change to the EVM, according to ECB officials.

55.32 % more PB votes in the east

Those observing the elections closely think that PDP could win the general elections if the party receives similar PB support as in the primary round, even if the three losing parties support BTP.

Figures from primary round results indicate that PBs played a major role in the six eastern dzongkhags of Trashigang, Mongar, Lhuentse, Trashigang, Pemagatshel, and Samdrupjongkhar in terms of voter turnout. Of the 107,086 votes cast in these six dzongkhags, 59,248 were from postal ballots, which is 55.32 percent more than EVMs.

Trashigang saw the highest number of postal ballots (16,787), followed by Mongar (11,769), and Pemagatshel (10,106). These figures lead some analysts to predict that postal ballots will be a deciding factor for seven dzongkhags, including Zhemgang, on Tuesday.

In contrast, five dzongkhags—Samtse, Sarpang, Tsirang, Dagana, and Chukha—saw a higher number of voter turnout in EVMs. Of the 104,119 total votes, only 30.37 percent (31,624 votes) were from postal ballots.

With postal ballots accounting for 77.37 percent of votes from the 11 eastern and southern dzongkhags, comprising 72.92 percent of registered voters, their significance is evident. The remaining nine central and western dzongkhags have 134,579 registered voters with only 26 percent postal ballot voters.

The conventional postal ballot services were availed by civil servants, armed forces personnel, their immediate family members and dependents, a section of the corporate and private employees, Bhutanese studying abroad, and those with special needs.

EVM votes

However, how people vote on EVM in 13 dzongkhags comprising 28 constituencies would be crucial for both parties vying to form the government. Of the five southern dzongkhags with 12 constituencies, Samtse, what many feel is our “swing” dzongkhags, like in the past, is anticipated to play a key role in the EVM votes.

In the primary round, Samtse with four constituencies and 53,386 registered voters saw the second-highest number of voter turnout after Trashigang. Of the total 30,515 votes cast, 22,464 voters were through EVMs, followed by Sarpang with 21,597 votes, including 7,023 PBs, Chukha 18,680 votes (13,441 EVMs and 5,239 PBs), Dagana secured 11,185 EVMs and 6,119 PBs, and in Tsirang, a total of 16,023 votes were cast, including 5,192 postal ballots.

Contributed by 

Rinzin Wangchuk