Congratulations to the newly elected thrompons of Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar and Thimphu thromdes. Congratulations also to the elected tshogpas of the four thromdes.
The elections of the four thromde tshogdes (city councils) represent the first local government elections held under the auspices of the Constitution. So, the elections also underscore Bhutan’s determined journey to a democracy.
Congratulations are also in order to the Chief Election Commissioner and his staff. The ECB team conducted another round of efficient elections – methodically and meticulously – notwithstanding the protest on their decision to waive off the rule requiring candidates to be registered in their constituency for a minimum of one year.
Here’s a summary of the votes cast – drawn from ECB’s announcements – in the elections for the four thrompons:
And here are three things I’ve picked up from the voting patterns:
One, hardly 50% of the registered voters actually voted. That’s not bad by international standards. But it’s a far cry from the almost 80% voter turnout that the first general elections enjoyed. And, local government elections, in which residents vote for candidates to address their immediate concerns, not vague national issues, should actually generate a bigger turnout.
This does not bode well for our democratic culture. A strong democracy begins with a healthy voter turnout. And declining numbers at the polling station may indicate that we don’t understand democracy; or that we are unwilling to participate in the democratic process; or that we don’t have faith in the system; or that we are simply not interested.
Any of these reasons is dangerous. So we must be careful. We must become more aware of the principles of our democracy. We must stand ready to safeguard the ideals of our democracy. And we must be willing to participate in the democratic process. Otherwise, rest assured, democracy will fail us. And we will have only ourselves to blame.
Two, the elections saw only 26 postal ballots – 24 in Thimphu, 2 in Gelephu and none in Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar. This means that public servants from these constituencies work in their own constituencies; or that public servants from these constituencies went home to vote; or that these constituencies have very few public servants; or, and most likely, that most of the public servants did not vote.
And three, a disproportionately low number of residents of the thromdes were eligible to vote. In 2005, Thimphu had a population of almost 80,000 people. Since then, Thimphu’s boundaries have expanded and its population has increased to 108,000. But it had only 6,300 registered voters for the thromde elections. That means less than 6% of the population were eligible to chose their local government. Of them, only half voted. The three other thromdes also tell similar stories.
This is obviously because the Constitution and electoral laws permit only those whose census is registered in a constituency to vote in that constituency. But since voting is the most powerful way of holding elected leaders to account, the inability of most residents to take part in an election does not augur well for democracy. So we need to reconsider our laws. Or better still, we need to reconsider where we register our censuses, in order to make better use of our franchise.
The banner showcases our new thrompons. I wish them, and the winning tshogpas, a successful tenure.