Despite the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) doing everything within its hands to educate voters, many people, especially in remote areas of the country have yet to understand what democracy is, the form of democracy, the difference between the primaries and the general elections and the people’s role to ensure that elections are free and fair.
A candidate from a political party in Wangduephodrang district shared that people of his constituency were of the view that candidates of the two political parties that won in the primaries would both become members of the National Assembly (NA). “The people thought that both I and my opponent would be NA MPs and that the general elections are just to decide which party would be the ruling party,” he shared, adding that he was worried. “Thinking that I have already become the NA member, people may not even go to vote in the general election. I had to explain to the people that only one from a constituency would get a seat in the NA,” he said.
Another candidate said he received a call from one of his supporters. “She is a very staunch supporter of me and my party and after the primary round election results were declared she called me and was crying, saying that she and other supporters failed.” According to the candidate, the woman had thought that the party was now out of the race as he was beaten by candidates of other parties in his constituency. “I explained that we are very much in the race and the difference between the primary and the general round of elections.”
Sonam Dorji from Trashiyangtse said it is very important for people to understand the difference between the primary and the general round. “People need to know how crucial every vote is, especially in the general round. They need to know that the primary round is between all political parties in the fray and that the two parties getting the maximum number of votes would qualify for the general round, where winning in constituencies matters.” Dorji also added that candidates need to explain to their supporters that the primary round is not just about the presidents. “As the EVM only has the logos of the parties, there are people who think that in the primary round, the vote is for the presidents. Thus, we cannot rule out mistakes being made wherein people vote against the very party they support because they do not like the leader (president).”
Additionally, candidates shared that people in the villages need to understand their roles in ensuring that elections are free and fair. “The ECB has educated voters about electoral malpractices and even told the people that those receiving bribes would also be held to account and penalized with fines. However, many do not know what they are supposed to do if someone attempts to bribe them,” one candidate shared. People do not know if they can complain to the Gup and Magmi. Most know that complaints can be lodged with the police and the ECB (returning officers and others), but those in remote areas cannot reach them. “The people call us and by the time we inform the concerned agencies the damage is done.”
Meanwhile, Rinzin from Eastern Bhutan said it is even difficult to distinguish between gifts and bribes. “Soelras (gifts) are part of our culture and when a candidate whom we refer to as Dasho gives us something, we do not know whether it is out of goodwill or a bribe. It is the Tshogpas (representatives) of the political parties who have to be fixed. They are the ones engaging in such activities.”
Rinzin shared that he called his candidate about such malpractices. “But we are asked to give pieces of evidence, like voice recordings or video recordings. How can people do this when it happens under the cover of darkness and at odd times? Nonetheless, we are determined this time to catch at least one or two people who engage in such practices.”
Tandin Tshewang from Thimphu