Election lessons

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.


Facebook Comments:


  1. Hon`ble OL,

    Local government election had successfully started with four thromde elections and i would like to join my fellow citizens in congratulating ECB and all other elected Thrompons and Tshogpas. ECB has been alys doing things exponentially well…

    The intent of ECB on their decesion to waive off the rule requiring candidates to be registered in their constituency for a minimum of one year as a one time measure was no doubt for a good cause. But that still went beyound the constitutional requirements as you have rightly reminded them through your letter. To me, I guess ECB didnt respond you anything and they went on and on…. whats your view on this and i firmly belive that our opposition has been doing everything when ever the decesion were beyound and above the constituiton…if ECB had clearified on your letter and if you were satisfied on the issue without my/our notices on this forums and other medias, am extremly sorry.

    ECB has done well anyways for taking off these long waited local elections…

  2. If the elected candidate who did not meet the census registration requirement under the law should be nullified. The candidates for the Thrompen, who were not elected, should challenge the ECB before the court.

  3. The elected Thrompen who did not meet the census registration requirement under the law should be nullified. It is a bad precedent set by ECB which will haunt CEC long after he is gone (I think). The candidates for the Thrompen, who were not elected, should challenge the ECB before the court on census registration requirement. Under what law the ECB is authorize to disregard the Constitution and other laws?

  4. Does anybody have an views, comments, possible solutions etc to add on this issue before our Honble OL shares his next commndable steps…

  5. mr ol why have u not yet blogged on the moh story ? Is is because lyonpo sangay was a former moh minister. does ur piercing blogs not extend to all topics or only to ur political enemies

  6. Wasn;t there just one woman contestant between all the four elections. I hope in the future more women participate.

  7. doublestandard says

    Ol, what is your stand now on the CEC’s voilation of the Constitution relating to MITSI? You have always maintained that the opposition is not agains the need for taxation but against the procedure in the lawsuit you filed against the government. If that is the case, then the change in mitsi law in the LG elections is a serious procedural flaw although the intent is good. Are you going to take the CEC to court also?

  8. thanks a lot for all the elected members.as because of the 2008 election peoples were all full dout in there mind.so there was few people turn out for vote.

  9. We would like to hear Honorable OL’s stand on the following news.
    Health officials cheat country off millions
    By tenzing_LAMSANG
    | 22 January 2011 |

    A plastic bucket worth Nu 600 was bought for Nu 7,500. Rot is spread across most departments in the health ministry with faulty tendering, favoritism, buying poor quality equipments, excessive ordering, overpricing and collusion

    Overpriced: The health ministry paid Nu 1.3mn for this treadmill which could have been purchased for Nu 97,000
    The level of corruption in the Ministry of Health has surpassed even that of the Common Wealth Games Scam of India. For example, the MoH paid Nu 1.3mn for a treadmill each that could have been obtained for Nu 97,000 while the Common Wealth Games committee facing corruption charges got it cheaper at Nu 900,000.

    An Anti Corruption Commission review on the procurement of medical equipments has shown institutionalized corruption in the Ministry of Health where officials at various levels were bribed. For over a decade, suppliers, along with local officials, have been cheating the country off millions with scant regard for the welfare of patients.

    In the last five years from 2005 to 2010, the procurement budget was Nu 1.231bn worth of medicines and equipments with equipments taking up around 60% of the pie.

    The report is divided into two parts. One deals with the government of India sponsored Nu 303mn procurement of medical equipments for the new JDWNRH hospital in Thimphu and Mongar Regional Referral Hospital in 2006-07.

    The other part of the report deals with the normal annual government procurement by the Ministry of Health over some selected years. The report does not cover all departments of the MoH but only physiotherapy, dental, radiology, laboratory and pediatric departments but says that similar problems afflict other departments too.

    The report blames the top management of the MoH for poor monitoring and also promoting and encouraging such activities.

    Government of India funded procurement in 2006-2007

    Of the Nu 303mn spent, there is a staggering Nu 73.827mn in irregularities. Equipment worth Nu 15.3mn are not functional, equipments worth Nu 45.8mn do not meet tender specifications, Nu 8.2mn equipments were supplied incomplete, Nu 1.5mn worth equipments were not supplied at all and Nu 2.8mn equipments were not installed.


    The figures above do not include overpricing of equipments available at cheaper rates in the market. As a sample, the ACC went through seven items purchased and found that the prices had been inflated by two to thirteen times higher then what had been supplied under regular RGOB tenders by the same suppliers.

    For example, a shoulder wheel tendered worth Nu 2,100 in 2008-09 was charged at Nu 79,920 in the GOI project tender. An electrical muscle stimulator worth Nu 13,580 in 2008-09 was charged for Nu 90,000. A hot pack machine worth Nu 97,608 was supplied for the Nu 421,398.

    These seven sample items by themselves caused a loss of around Nu 7.152mn.

    Another instance of overpricing was when a company which lost the bid was fraudulently given bids worth Nu 8.8mn actually won by another company. The same company then hugely overpriced its items. For example, it charged Nu 1.2mn each for two multi-gym sets which only cost around Nu 200,000 to Nu 300,000.

    In one instance a supplier gave 12 plastic buckets worth Nu 600 each in Thimphu town as ‘sintex dustbins’ charging the government around Nu 7,500 each. A company was selected for supplying patient monitors worth Nu 1.342mn when another company offered the same product for Nu 196,000 or 84% lesser.

    “This glaring irregularity amply illustrates that the supplier could afford to do anything they like knowing nothing much can happen to them,” says the report. It further says, “This situation has worsened as procurement officers and committee members were blinded by bribes and kickbacks offered by the supplier.”

    Faulty tendering process

    The report says that of the 13 bidders, 9 had been disqualified on the grounds that they were ‘not available at AIIMS to provide clarifications to technical queries’. ACC says the elimination of other bidders on this ground was unfair and inconsistent with procurement rules as the normal practice is to get clarifications from bidders only through writing.

    ACC says that valuation of bids were not done properly as the reasons cited against certain suppliers were either vague, flimsy, inconsistent and in some cases deceptive and fictional.

    The report says that DVED violated procurement rules to allow 100% advance payment with only 10% security deposit. This meant that even if all the materials are defective or not supplied, the supplier would only lose 10%. Even that is doubtful as the guarantee is through Indian banks. The problem now is that with fraud, corruption and serious breach of contract being discovered, the suppliers are not serious about fulfilling contractual obligations.

    The suppliers have not met their pledge to train medical staff for 2 to 4 weeks to use the equipments. As a result, machines worth around Nu 17mn are not being optimally used.

    Non-functional supplies

    The ACC found that Nu 15.3mn worth of equipments were not working. The report says that there is serious concern about the authenticity of the medical equipments supplied. Some of these equipments were high-end and expensive but strongly appeared to be refurbished or second hand.

    For example, a Mobile C-arm at the JDWNRH hospital bought for Nu 1.8mn failed to function after installation. Though the machine had a five-year warranty, the ministry went for a new tender.

    Equipments not confirming to specifications

    The ACC discovered that 51 items worth Nu 45.8mn did not meet the specification of the tender with equipments supplied varying in brands. There were also evidences of products being supplied from second hand markets. For example four operating tables worth Nu 11.15mn were of different models from the supplier’s catalogue and on visual examination had the signs of being used before.

    In another case, a laminar flow machine used for sterilization in the pediatric department was substandard, the papers were fabricated and the company in England denied that it manufactured laminar machines. Similarly Nu 3mn worth of dishwashers at JDWNRH was substandard and locally fabricated.


    Favoring suppliers

    The report says one of the signs of corruption was that certain bribe paying suppliers were always chosen despite uncompetitive rates. A supplier had been supplying Japanese bench top centrifuge for Nu 525,000 each for sometime but later in 2008-09, when he offered a Korean one for Nu 109,956, it was accepted. However, a same Korean brand offered by another supplier was rejected in in the past.

    Between 2006 and 2009, the radiology department bought 14 ultrasound machines from the same supplier despite his rates being higher compared to others. As a result, in just two years, excess payments of Nu 5.8mn was made.

    In 2005, haemodialysis equipments and accessories worth Nu 5.2mn were procured violating all tender norms by specifying the brand to favor one company and selecting the highest bidder at Nu 2.1 mn instead of the lowest at Nu 1.3mn. The machine meant for Mongar hospital was never used for the next 4 years due to power problems. In 2007 two more were bought for Gelephu hospital but were never used.

    The RGOB also had to endure foreign exchange rates losses worth Nu 6mn in 2006-07 and Nu 10mn in 2008-09 due to excessively favorable clauses for suppliers.

    Accepting defective equipments

    During 2005-06, a company supplied 23 defective baby incubators which are life support systems for weak babies. The quality inspection was passed independently by Tandin Phub and distributed to hospitals who found it all to be unusable from day one. Despite complaints, the supplier did not fix the incubators but was instead given contracts for 11 more incubators in 2008-09.

    In another instance, the head of the dental department, Dr Samdrup, on two years of 2006-07 and 2008-09, accepted Nu 1.03mn worth of unusable and incomplete dental machines and placed more orders despite repeated protests from users.

    A Nu 1.6mn computed digital radiography machine bought in 2000 for the dental department mysteriously went missing in 2003 with no records.

    In another instance, in 2006-07, the dental department ordered oral surgery instruments, but strangely accepted the delivery of the instrument box without any instrument inside. Laboratory equipments worth Nu 1.4mn and tendered in 2006-07 had not been received till date.

    Excessive ordering

    ACC found that there was excessive ordering of neonatal equipments way above the requirements. For example, in 2005-06, only JDWNRH and Mongar hospital had applied for one baby incubator and eight phototherapy units. The DVED however ordered 30 baby incubators and 29 phototherapy units. Further, though there was no official request for baby resuscitation tables the DVED ordered 20 of them.

    Between 2006 and 2009, the ACC found that Nu 9.39mn worth of excessive laboratory equipments had been ordered. This was done by inflating the actual requirements. For example, in 2007-08, only five bench top centrifuges was needed but instead 15 were ordered.

    During an inspection, seven new centrifuges had been donated but in the 2010-11 tender the laboratory department asked for nine more. Hospitals had asked for only two ultrasound machines but they were given seven.

    This is part of the larger ACC investigation into corruption in the health ministry.

    Thank you.

  10. Lets us focussed on the point ” ECB voilating constitutional provisions Vs OL`s stand & action” The earlier writers have asked his stand on the matter, but OL is not still with the answer as of now, not necessarily that he is busy. This issue would not have become a debateable topic if OL had not taken the government to the court of law, not for increasing the tax but for voilating the provisions of the constitution and he is right for that. Now ECB had voilated the costitution and OL had intervened but ECB had still gone ahead. If OL doesnt claim for any action against this voilation by ECB whatever the intent may be, the verdict of the case from SC due to be released soon, incase favoured OL, will not be appreciated by the public. ECB can not altered LAW unless parliament does it. Public are waiting to hear OL`s strong stand and justification on this. He has been quite on this issue but people will not stop hunting for him and if at all he doesnt want to talk on his weakness, people will perhaps decide themselves not on the ECB`s voiliation but on OL`s intentions and characters.

  11. Pema Wangchuk says

    As OL said “Yes, we need more women to take part in active politics. We need more women to lead.”
    But i was expecting that at least one woman win the first Thromdoe election. But our people is encouraged and motivated by those males.
    Many women want to be politics but many illiterate one do not want. Old customs still dominated our democracy.

  12. OL is what he is! Only for Laughs!!! He will not comment on the health ministry’s corruption nor on the CEC’s violation of the constitution. He knows his “Own Limitations.”

  13. OL`s limitation is only aginst prime minister in which case that is his prime target.

  14. OL, why this stone deaf silence from you in regard to tangbas post requesting your views on the huge corruption scandals that seem to be plaguing the MOH. As the OL, you should be questioning the DPT government on their very poor record in fighting corruption. I hope you will address this issue of Zero Tolerance to corruption on a seperate post.

  15. doublestandard says

    Yes, you should be questioning the DPT government for all the corruption that took place before they came in. That will really enlighten people like yourself who are bent on destroying the image of the government. Why don’t you also question the competency of CEC in conducting the Thromde elections? Why don’t you take up the cause of Krishna bhadhur tamang who has been disqualified as a Tshogpa because of the census status of his wife? After spending millions to conduct an election involing just a few hundred voters, couldn’t they even verify such things before the elections? Come on OL, please share your views on these issues.

  16. Hon`ble OL,

    We are still waiting for ur stand on CEC`s voilation and i would like to belive that OL will not let that go unnoticed

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