Fantastic move – says a very senior bureaucrat

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) earlier announced that there should be no “door to door” campaign during the campaign period. Underlining that door-to-door campaigns are the platforms for electoral corruption, candidates and the people say that the ECB has taken a very mature move, which would even provide a level playing field for candidates.

Moreover, a very senior retired bureaucrat said it is “fantastic move by the Election Commission.” According to him, the elections will be “cleaner, less expensive, no coercion, no intimidation and no harassment. “It is an extremely innovative and fantastic electoral reform. The ECB should follow the National Council (NC) method, where candidates had common forums,” he said.

Meanwhile the General Secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Phurba said door-to-door campaigns are not required. “We submitted the same to the ECB and this type of campaigning leads to corruption. Even if some do not indulge in corruption, people spread false stories and make the electoral process dirty.” He said there are more disadvantages and creates animosity among members, “The ECB should organize common forums like they did during the National Council elections,” he said, while also adding that even the ECB cannot monitor door-to-door campaigns.  

Speaking about it, Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) said the ECB must have arrived at this decision considering the circumstances and feedback to promote free and fair election. “As far as BTP is concerned, we abide by any decision of ECB as long as it is within the general provision of law. In place of door to door, there should be adequate common forum to allow interaction with maximum voters,” a member of the party said.

BTP further stated that there may be several advantages including less expenditure, curtailing political corruption and creating a level playing field.  Election officials can also easily monitor political candidates. However, the party said that the ECB saying they may withdraw FAM tour and consultation meeting is unfair to new political parties. “There is good logic if they stop the consultation meetings of old political parties as they are already familiar with the public. It will not be fair to new political parties especially because some of the parties have already completed their familiarization meetings and even visited some of the dzongkhags multiple times.”

“There is a popular saying, especially in eastern Bhutan that ‘there is dramatic transformation at the last minute,’ which primarily happens because of the door-to-door campaign,” a member of a political party said, adding that even if a candidate cannot go for this “important event,” party workers are sent. “There are allegations that people are given clothes, rice cookers and money during such campaigns.”

The candidate also questioned the rationality of the door-to-door campaigns. “People hear the candidates at meetings and also know the pledges of different parties. I do not even see the need for this campaign,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Rinzin from Mongaar said door-to-door campaigns were disturbing the people, too. “Most of them come at night and in the villages, we sleep by 7 to 8. They may be aspiring politicians and even become ministers. But they have to respect the people’s privacy and time, too.” Rinzin said that common forums like those held during the NC elections would be convenient for everyone. “Most people will attend the meeting. All candidates will speak, which will not happen in door-to-door campaigns,” he said.

Apart from Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT), who said that they support the ECB’s move, the paper did not get any response from the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and  Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).

Meanwhile, the ECB has not elaborated on actions or penalties that would be taken if politicians or supporters indulge in door-to-door campaigning. The penalties should be strong and the ECB should not say it can act only if complaints are lodged. It should play a role more proactive than it is currently doing and begin investigations if there is authenticity in what appears on public forums and social media. The ECB has been taking bold moves. This would be a bolder one.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu