Despite the majority of residents living in the four Thromdes in the country, only a handful of voters elected their Thrompon (mayor) in the past two local government elections.
Thimphu Thromde has an estimated population of 115,000 but only 1,335 people elected the Thrompon. While Phuentsholing Thromde has nearly 28,000 residents, only 182 people elected the Thrompon in the second local government elections in 2016.
Similar cases were observed in the other two Thromde elections in Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.
Bhutan National Human Development Report (BNHDR) on Ten Years of Democracy in Bhutan states: “For urban communities, a decade of democracy has highlighted the need for better representation,”
The majority of residents who have lived in the Thromdes for decades and would like to see urban development that includes parks and public spaces, affordable housing, water for domestic use, lower crime rates, urban sanitation, public transport and more efficient waste disposal have no say in the elections.
“There was optimism that an elected Thrompon would focus on the interests of all residents. However, the electoral laws proved to be an obstacle to public involvement in urban planning and development,” states the BNHDR report.
The perspective survey on a decade of parliamentary democracy 2018 showed that 54.4% of urban respondents living in areas governed by Thromdes said that they should be allowed to vote even when they are not registered there.
Among respondents in urban areas, 83.9% maintained “all people who work and live and are 18 years and above should participate and vote during the Thromde elections.”
On Thrompon looking after the interest of only eligible voters, it was found that 24.9% did not know, while 37.2% agreed this was the case. And 57.3% felt that eligible voters in the past two elections had selected the right candidates.
Further, by law, a voter in a Thromde (city/town) must have a gung and mitshi (landed property), which disqualifies most urban residents from voting because they do not own land.
“An eligible voter does not become a voter of a constituency by virtue of his or her residence in that place. In order to become a voter of specific constituency, a person has to have his or her mitsi in the civil registry of that constituency at least a year prior to an election”, stated the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).
As per the article 23(2c) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, “A person shall have the right to vote by direct adult suffrage through secret ballot at an election if the person is registered in the civil registry of that constituency for not less than one year, prior to the date of the election.”
In addition, ECB stated that those who live in Thromdes and have stake in it should have a say in the governance of the Thromdes be it through the ballot or other mechanisms.
“It was found that people residing in Thromde own property, pay taxes to the Thromde, live and bring up their family in the Thromde, yet do not transfer their Mitsi from their village,” the ECB stated.
Additionally, ECB’s stance is that the reason most often cited for mitshi not being transferred from villages to the Thromdes being emotional attachment rather than ignorance and there is free choice of each voter enable to exercise as per one’s own decision.
According to the ECB, the agency has made many efforts to advise the voters to check and ensure their mitsi in constituency of choice from very first parliamentary and local government elections.
“It is desirable but the supreme law itself does not allow it. Article 23, Section 2(c) of the Constitution requires one to be in the civil registry of that constituency to be eligible to vote. One cannot be in the civil registry of two constituencies at the same time and therefore, the option is virtually closed,” said Member of Parliament, Dorji Wangdi from Panbang constituency.
Gelegphu Thrompon, Tikaram Kafley said it is logical for the residents to have the right to vote for Thrompon as it would mean proper selection.
Phuentsholing Thrompon, Uttar Kumar Rai, said if the residents are eligible to vote, there would be more migration in cities and towns resulting in crowding and the centers would face difficulty managing their population.
In addition, he said not all residents would have emotional attachment as census-registered residents. Some residents have land and building in more than one Thromde.
“The predicament for urban Bhutan is that landowners who want to maximize the profitability of their plots, such as through urban beautification and recreation, have the civil registration that allows them to vote.”
The BNHDR report recommends conducting a feasibility study on making the residents of Thromdes who do not have landed property, eligible to participate in Thromde elections.
pic courtesy: ECB fb page
Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu