LG election post mortem

Published on Jul 14 2011 // News Analysis
By I. P. Adhikari

Road through democratisation is not smooth as the rulers in Bhutan had predicted. When this best governance model was projected in semi-demon form three years back, royalists took enough opportunities to publicise that democracy was the gift from palace despite public refusal. Characteristically, had that been the circumstances, post election results would not have created hue and cry.

We do not yet forget the situation after general election in 2008 when the opposition out-rightly announced resignation owing to sweeping wins by DPT and the cheats carried out underneath. There were no rooms for the opposition to appeal, for the country had no laws under which judiciary would consider the election complaints. The results had to be accepted as imposed.

The scenario has changed, a little, when the Bhutanese people marched to the second use of their adult franchise this June to elect the local government representatives. Discrepancies surfaced, people realised the need for justified solution and their right to speak against such discrepancies. Gradually, people are opening. And it will finally lead to their realisation of the need for freedom and personal rights. It takes time.

Consciousness and frauds observed during this LG election reflected the maturity of Bhutanese people towards democratic practices and their acceptance – not refusal as had been publicised. And regulations that unsuit the soil appear to be obstruction for many democratic aspirants.

As many as 373 posts still remain vacant throughout the country’s local government even after two rounds of elections. The commission chief said, a third round of election is likely in September this year. Many who were disqualified on ground of the census registration are the only possible candidates since these are the people who have passed the functional literacy test conducted by the commission. However, possibilities are also that they might not return to the contest. Many disqualified candidates have lost interests to re-run. Thus, many of the 373 vacant seats might remain vacant again.

A total of 26 complaints were registered after this election – against 17 Gup elects, 1 Mangmi elect, 2 Tshogpa elects, 1 election official and five against voters in Dagana, Gasa, Haa, Lhuentse, Pemagatshel, Punakha, Samtse, Samdrup Jongkhar, Sarpang, Trongsa, Trashigang, Tsirang and Wangdiphodrang districts.

The election commission nullified election of a gup and six tshogpas on ground of their age criteria. This has raised questions over how effective or responsible was the commission to run the election. Is this simple human error or act of irresponsibility by the commission?

The gup candidate in Bjagchhog gewog in Chukha and a tshogpa candidate in Tsento, Paro, had been revoked for crossing 65 years. They were born on January 1, 1946. Four revoked tshogpas of Silambi in Mongar, Langchenphug in Samdrupjongkhar, Bidung and Shongphu in Trashigang had January 1, 1987 as their dates of birth. Only Chang tshogpa in Thimphu was born on June 14, 1988 – immature to run the election.

The electoral officials were deployed two months before the election. The commission officials in Thimphu pass the blame to electoral officials for not scrutinising and the candidates for giving false information.

Electoral officials in ground say, without any directives from the election commission on how to calculate the age, they directly subtracted the year of birth from 2011. On the other hand, a mamgmi candidate in Sarpang district, Jatu Tshewang, was denied contesting election on age ground. However, it has now been revealed that the candidate was only 55. His citizenship card mentions his DOB as January 1, 1987 which makes him younger than his eldest son.

A Gup (mandal) and a Mangmi (karbari) candidate of Tendru Gewog in Samtse, Phub Dorji and Yashi respectively, filed a written complaint to the district court against the Tendru Gup elect Pema Wangchuk accusing him of violating the electoral laws. According to complaint, the gup elect arranged a taxi to transport voters at the polling station on the Election Day and that Wangchuk was the district coordinator of the ruling DPT.

In Namgaycholing gewog, former gup, Dorji who lost the election, submitted to the court that the gup elect, Suraj Subba, had spread rumours that Dorji and his wife had cried all night after losing the gup post.

Dorji also stated that Suraj Subba had bribed a few people, when he went campaigning from door to door, and that he was a political party coordinator, although he claims he has resigned.

Even in remotest village Sagteng in Trashigaing district received complain about election discrepancy. One of the gup candidates Sangay Dorji complained against the gup elect Tshewang Tshering for bribing voters with alcohol in his village three days before the poll day. In fact, later both the candidates confessed they carried such acts. Commission remain tight lipped. Another case under Khaling gewog in the district was also resolved on July 5, after it was found to be without ‘substantial reasons’. The Trashigang court has also received a complaint against the former Bartsham gup Neten Duba from two gup candidates, who had lost to him. The case was filed on July 6 by Dechen Dorji and Gyaltshen who accused the former gup for being near the polling station with the election commission card even though he was not allowed to do so.

The Samtse district court received three complaints against two gups and a tshogpa elect of three gewogs on various accounts on July 5. The gup and mangmi candidates of Tendru gewog filed a case against the gup elect for violation of election rules; while the gup candidate of Namgaychoeling gewog has complained of violation of election rules, defamation and bribery against the gup elect Jas Bahadur Subba. Tshogpa candidate, Kinzang Dorji, alleged that the gup had census problems as his brothers had taken part in the 1990 demonstrations and are now living as refugees in Nepal. He had also written to the court that the gup elect, a former livestock veterinary supervisor, was dismissed from government service due to issues with his census.

Case against tshogpa elect of Sa-ngag-choeling (Chargarey) gewog Jamtsho, filed by Dorji, of the district has been dismissed.

In Pemagatshel, the election official mixed up names of the candidates which led to false results. A gup contestant Lhawang Tshering from Nanong, Pemagatshel, filed petitions against the officer on June 30. Election officials had written Lhawang Tshering’s name under Sonam Jamtsho’s photo, and vice versa.

Of six polling stations in Nanong gewog, the mistake was corrected in the EVMs at the Khangmari and Woongchhiloo polling stations just before poll began. At the Tshatsi polling station, the mistake was corrected midway through the poll. The rest could not be corrected. Over 90 percent of the voters in the gewog were illiterate and it is possible that voters pushed the EVM buttons based on the photos. This is serious offence on part of the commission. Yet, the commission remained shut, the court is yet to give its verdict.

Gup candidate of Kabisa gewog in Punakha, Dodo, who lost the election by 94 votes, filed a case against gup-elect Tshering Tobgay, for bribing voters with gho, kira, tego, mobile phones and money.

In Talo gewog, Dorji Wangchuk, 49, also filed a complaint with the district court against the elected gup, Kinley, for bribing voters. Dorji Wangchuk lost by 162 votes to gup-elect Kinley. Dorji Wangchuk accused Kinley of bribing voters of Laptsakha chiwog offering them doma and litchi juice. Kinley said sharing doma is not bribe but a Bhutanese culture.

Of the 11 gewogs in Chukha, 10 are left with either one or two vacant tshogpa posts; while four of the five chiwogs under Lochina gewog remain without a tshogpa.

Bjachhog gewog in Chukha did not have a single tshogpa candidate in any of its five villages. Almost 50 percent of the district’s 58 villages are deprived of a tshogpa. There remain 27 vacant posts, after the last candidate and the lone female candidate for the tshogpa post in Uekha chiwog under Metabkha gewog Chimi, secured more “no” votes than “yes”.

Similar is the story from Mongar. While district’s Chali, Chagskhar and Jurmed gewog did not have a single tshogpa candidate, people of Tsamang and Saling gewogs refused to elect theirs.

Tsamang-Banjar chiwog tshogpa candidate, Chimi Lhadon, Drangmaling-Nanggor chiwog candidate, Kinzang Gyaltshen and Saling-Drogsar chiwog’s Tshering, the only candidates from the respective chiwogs were voted no. Including these Mongar has 46 posts vacant.

Sarpang district court dismissed the case filed against gup elect. Ugyen Wangchuk, 38, from Dzamlingthang, who lost by 53 votes to Tashi, 58, from Pelrithang Khatoed, alleged that a former parliamentarian of Gelephu, Phub Tenzin, bought beer for two men and two women of Dzamlingthang chiwog, and asked them to vote for Tashi.

The court verdict says Phub had given a lift to the two people but he did not influence them to vote for Tashi and, thereby, did not affect the election process.

It is only Dagana to elect a female gup. Namgay Palden in Tashiding was fighting against the former gup.

Goenshari in Punakha was unable to elect a gup because the contest between two of its candidates ended in a draw and are now headed for a re-election while Gongdue gewog said ‘no’ to its lone candidate.

Wandgi Phodrang, Pemagatshel, Sarpang, Trashiyangtse and Paro voted for new faces. Paro and Samtse also voted for a few female contestants. Samtse had the highest number of women candidates contesting for the tshogpa post in the country.

The local government election saw 194,357 of the 347,938 registered voters turn up to vote for their local leaders. This is a 56 percent turnout, much lower than many expected. Chief election commissioner Kunzang Wangdi said the 56 percent was a good turnout to rejoice.

In many places along the southern borders, voters came out in droves despite the heavy downpours.

Voters from about five households in Norbugang (Changmari) did not get their voter personal identification card (VPIC). No one has any idea where the cards were.

Election officials said voters have to contact local authorities for VPICs and they will not be allowed to vote without one. The citizen identity card cannot be used to vote.

The local election revolves around gup who will receive handsome salaries, other benefits, allowances and of course power and privilege. Aspirants rarely have interests on running as Tshogpas or mangmis due to low salaries and lack of any government benefits. The psycho among the young Bhutanese have already started growing that gups are the ultimate people at local government to exercise power and money.

The trend will continue to dominate the Bhutanese society until regulations devolve the power to mangmi and tshogpas as ultimate decision makers at village level and provide them with attractive salaries.