Gomchens cry foul after ECB officials seize their voter cards

The seizure of more than 15 voter cards from gomchens(lay monks) by officials from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) during an electoral zomdu (meeting) in Wangphu gewog in Samdrup Jongkhar on Wednesday has left the people there awestruck and disappointed.

They say they were not aware of what was happening or what had happened.

Sherub Gyeltshen, 43, from Sachillo Chongapa village, Wangphu gewog in Samdrup Jongkhar, said he was surprised when ECB officials took away his voter card saying he was not eligible because he is a gomchen.

“For the past two elections for National Assembly, I have been voting. I am not associated with any religious institution nor I am a fulltime gomchen, but I am an ordinary farmer who makes a living for my family,” he added.

Further, Sherub Gyeltshen asked, “Being a Buddhist, everyone is religious and one way or the other they are involved in religious activities, so does that mean they are also not eligible to vote?”

Similarly, Dakpa Chogyel, 56 from the same gewog, said he was shocked when his voter card was taken away and that it shocked him more when they failed to justify the reason.

“Everyone in my village is religious, so their voter card should also be taken away. Why only ours. I am just an ordinary farmer and not also a full time gomchen. They should have explained to us but they said nothing and just took away our voter cards. Everyone in my house is religious, so does that mean they are also not eligible? I am a gomchen without any responsibility and I do perform ritual only on a few auspicious days. I am not happy with this kind of rule. Where is equality and justice?” he said.

Another resident, Dorji Wangchuk, 35, said he had been voting since 2013, but was told today that he is not allowed to vote because he is a gomchen.

“I have no idea what is going on and maybe I fall in that ineligibility category just because I am a gomchen. Or maybe it is a rule of the government,” he added.

Meanwhile, going by the definition, gomchen or laity are lay people, as distinct from the clergy and are non-monastic practitioners.

And according to the section 184 of the Election Act of Bhutan (2008) on ineligibility of a Religious Personality to Participate in the Electoral Process, it’s stated that a truelku, lam, any influential religious personality or ordained members of any religion or religious institutions excluding the laity, as determined/registered as religious organizations or religious personalities under the provisions of the Religious Organizations Act 2007, shall neither join a political party nor participate in the electoral process as they must remain above politics and cannot use their influence for the benefit of any party or candidate.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu