One on One with the ECB

In this exclusive with Business Bhutanโ€™s Nidup Lhamo, Phub Dorji, Director, Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) highlights the objectives behind the new rules on criteria of aspiring candidates; challenges confronted and activities that are in the pipe-line for the 2023 National Council (NC) elections.

1. The percentage of people coming out to vote for the National Council elections are less compared to the National Assembly elections. Is the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) doing anything to increase the voter percentage?

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is regularly conducting civic and voter education, both during the election and non-election period with the pointed objective of enhancing interest and ensuring greater level of participation of the general public in all elections in the country. Over the years, a great deal of focus has also been placed on the participation of youth, women and persons with disabilities in all our elections. Although the ECB has accorded equal importance to all elections in our voter education programmes, given the greater interest and importance attached to the National Assembly (NA) elections by the Bhutanese electorate, voter turnout has always remained higher for party-based elections. The greater interest perhaps stems from the fact that for the next five years it is the party with the majority seats in the NA that forms the government for the next five years. Notwithstanding these probable reasons, the ECB shall always diligently pursue aggressive civic and voter education programmes for the citizenry in order to increase voter turn-out during every succeeding NC elections.

2. Though the media has covered stories on ECBโ€™s changes โ€“ especially the new requirements of five and ten years experience for participating in the NA and NC respectively, could the ECB elaborate on the main purposes of this change?

It is aimed at strengthening the electoral processes and creating an enabling environment for the qualitative participation in elections by political parties and candidates of good standing and suitable experiences, to represent the constituents in the Parliament. This is extremely vital, in recognition of the great importance attached to the sacred parliamentary duties and responsibilities that elected leaders have to discharge with a great sense of duty and service to the nation, and in view of the ever increasing complex challenges that Bhutan will face going forward.  It is also to ensure that elections in Bhutan are conducted with high standards of integrity, truthfulness, selflessness, loyalty and patriotism. 

3. What are some of the activities in the pipeline for the 2023 NC elections? Will there be seminars and workshops like the one held on October 21, 2022 at Terma Linca?

The following activities are in the pipeline for the 2023 NC elections:

1. All the 20 Dzongkhags Election Offices shall conduct civic & voter education for the fourth Parliamentary Elections at the gewog and chiwog level in the month of November, 2022. (In preparation for this important task, a ToT was conducted by the ECB in September 2022 for all the 20 Dzongkhags and based on queries raised during the training, written guidelines have also been issued to facilitate voter education in a uniform manner.)

2. Training on Election Dispute Settlement System shall be conducted in December, 2022.

3. The ECB shall notify the general public about the allowable timeline for conduct of social & religious events.

4. The ECB shall come up with the various awareness materials for the NC elections, 2023 and will be released at appropriate time.

Similar to the NC seminar conducted recently, training for the Returning Officers and National Observers shall be conducted in due course of time.

4. Could the ECB say how much budget would be required for the 2023 NC elections?

The estimated budget of the NC elections in 2023 is Nu. 368.363 million. However, the actual expenditure incurred could be determined only upon completion of NC elections.

5. What are some of the challenges that the ECB is facing, if any?

Notwithstanding the unprecedented challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous lockdown situations that followed in 2020 and 2021, the ECB meticulously planned and successfully conducted the historic Third Local Government Elections, 2021, Thromde Elections and four NA Bye-Elections to National Assembly Demkhongs under four Dzongkhags.

No election is the same, and new challenges can emerge in new elections. The ECB is preparing hard to effectively deal with any new challenge/issue that may arise during the next elections. We believe the ECB is fully prepared to face any unforeseen challenges and shall always remain on ever-ready-mode.

6. How can the mainstream media help the ECB for a fair, just and transparent NC election?

The ECB has always been dependent on the media for disseminating accurate and unbiased information to the voters and general public. Therefore, the ECB would like to urge the media to continue to play this instrumental role and strictly comply with all the media code of ethics as well as electoral laws while they cover articles/stories. More importantly, the media could help the ECB in reaching out to the voters to help them make informed choices.