If an election, particularly the parliamentary one, is messed up it can put on hold the functioning of the entire national system

Some eight months from now Bhutan will hold the second Parliamentary elections. Three political parties in the making have applied for registration and many more candidates have expressed their wish to contest the elections. The Election Commission of Bhutan is also gearing up for the occasion. The Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, shared with Business Bhutanโ€™s reporter Saraswati Sundas the various facets of the upcoming elections.

Q. How is ECB preparing for the parliamentary election next year?

The parliamentary election next year in a way will be a repeat of the 2008 election. All the systems, procedures and most of the documents are being revisited for the purpose.

A few other documents and additional measures will be finalized soon. The Electoral Roll is being updated with addition of the names of new voters coming of voting age and with the inclusion of senior citizens who were not issued citizenship cards earlier. The names of the National Assembly Demkhongs are being improved to make them consistent with names that have evolved during the delimitation of Local Government Demkhongs.

Before the elections, a biometric voter registration and identification system will be put in place for heavy polling stations. Postal Ballot coverage will be extended to include more urban voters and voters outside the country. A study is almost complete exploring options of allowing voters residing in Thimphu to participate in elections without travelling to Polling Stations in Dzongkhags or places of civil registry.

Q. What is the ECB doing at the moment?

At the moment, a general voter education program is going on in full swing throughout the nation. A training on election dispute settlement has also begun from December 6 to prepare and strengthen the capacit6y of the Dzongkhag Election Dispute System to handle disputes. Political parties are being sensitized and registration of new groups is being carried out.

Lists of electoral officers to be on election duty are being received from ministries and agencies which will be followed by refresher courses. Senior Election Officers from will also be sent to observe State Assembly elections in India for added comparative knowledge to handle elections more effectively.

Q. What are the challenges you foresee in the elections next year?

More disputes are anticipated as there may be more than two political parties. The expectations of voters, political parties, candidates, election officials will be more and ensuring high level of voter turnout and healthy competition without causing divisions in the society. The advancement of the Social media and its use by all will also be a concern that ECB will have to attempt to effectively manage.

Q. How is the 2013 elections going to be different given the lessons learnt from the first election?

After the first parliamentary elections in 2008, there were substantial amount of valuable information that was gathered. Most of these had gone in the quality improvement of the laws and rules that we have put in place. One significant case is putting in place a proper system of election dispute Settlement in Dzongkhags such as Dzongkhag Election Dispute Settlement Bodies to handle the complaints.

Regulations on the size of a political party, functionaries, deployment of micro observers, stricter observation system, organization of campaign and common forums and regulation on campaigning are few improvements that have been made.

Q. What is the status of the party registration process and when is the last date for the parties to register?

Three groups have applied for registration which is being reviewed by the Commission at the moment. As for the last date for registration, there is no set deadline from the ECBโ€™s side. Groups can apply anytime before an election period. However, it will be in the interest of Political Parties to register as early as possible and not to wait till the election dates are announced. In short, while there is no set last date ECB will not accept Applications for Registration once the ECB is in election mode which is the Election Period.

Q. How is the ECB going to encourage maximum voter turnout, especially to attract the young urban voters?

The public awareness and civic and voter education initiatives are in place and other options to reduce/eliminate travel time are being explored. Converge of postal ballot is a strong option being pursued for corporate and private employee and their spouses. Postal Ballot is extended to spouses and dependents of civil servants and armed forces. In addition people living abroad are also being given the facility.

Q. What are your biggest fears before the elections next year?

Conducting elections in a free and fair manner is a massive and precision task. If an election, particularly parliamentary one, is messed up it can put on hold the functioning of the entire national system. If a mistake is made it questions the credibility of an election, there will be loss of confidence and trust in elections system. It will be costly too.

Q. What are your expectations from the 2013 elections?

A smooth and successful conclusion more satisfying than the 2008 elections and more member of the parliament in the opposition party is what is expected from the elections next year. We are looking forward to a free, fair and smooth election. One that fulfills the aspirations of the people and our Visionary Leaders who have always placed the national interest in the forefront.