Special prayers

Dragons

The Zhung Dratshang, our central monastic body, concluded the “Druk-lo Doe-choed” prayers yesterday. The prayers are performed once every 12 years to usher in the year of the dragon, and to secure peace and prosperity for the people and all sentient beings.

The banner features some of the 300-or-so monks involved in the 5-day prayers at Punakha’s Puna Dewachen Phodrang.

 

Well done ECB

The Election Commission of Bhutan have now completed seven rounds of elections. Of the seven, last Monday’s local government elections was by far the largest and most complex. It was also the most successful.

ECB officials, including those in the dzongkhags, worked round the clock, for months on end, to organize the elections. They were assisted by about 150 senior civil servants who were on deputation since early April this year to work as observers and returning officers.

And more than 5,500 election officials, most of them teachers, were trained and dispatched to man the 1,103 polling stations located throughout our country.

In addition, thousands of workers contributed their services indirectly. They were the ones who kept our roads open, telephones working, banks running and electricity functioning. Plus countless security personal worked to ensure the safety of the elections.

On poll day, despite the rains, a decent 56% of registered voters turned up to cast their ballots. Of the 2,185 candidates who contested the elections, 1,105 won becoming gups, mangmis, tshogpas and thromde thuemis in accordance with the Constitution.

The mammoth exercise cost the State Nu 225 million. But the election is worth the money. And worth the time. And the huge effort.

Why? Because the Constitution requires “… elected Local Governments to facilitate the direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being”. And that, in short, is what our democracy is all about.

Incidentally, the first elections that the ECB conducted was the “mock elections” on 21st April 2007 in which “Druk Yellow Party” and “Druk Red Party” emerged as the two leading parties.

On 28th May 2007, ECB conducted another “mock election” in which the “Druk Yellow Party” trounced the “Druk Red Party” winning 46 of the 47 constituencies.

On 31st December 2007, the ECB conducted the National Council elections, which became the first elections to be conducted under the Constitution. On 29th January 2008, National Council elections were held for the 5 dzongkhags that did not have sufficient candidates earlier.

On 24th March 2008, the first general elections to the National Assembly was conducted in which DPT clobbered the PDP winning 45 of the 47 constituencies.

And on 21st January 2011, Thromde elections were conducted in the four so-called “Class A” thromdes.

The banner, featuring voters in Meewang gewog’s Khasatrapchu polling station, celebrates the successes of the Election Commission of Bhutan.

Congratulations!

Bravo!

25 additional colonels make our armed forces that much more stronger. His Majesty the King, who is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, granted promotions to the accomplished officers this morning.

I thank the officers for their outstanding services to the tsa-wa-sum, and wish them and their families a very hearty Tashi Delek!

Family ties

People's gift

“Throughout my reign I will never rule you as a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son …” so pledged His Majesty the King during the coronation two and a half years ago.

His Majesty the King has kept his promise.

His Majesty has traveled the length and breadth of our country and personally granted land kidu to tens of thousands of farmers. He has walked – sometimes for days on end, in the sun, rain and in the snow – to meet our remotest villagers, and has cooked for them, slept in their houses, and granted kidu to the destitute, the needy and the infirm.

He has visited almost every school, from community schools to colleges, to talk with, to play – at times even barefoot – and to guide our students.

And when disaster has struck – earthquakes in our East, floods throughout the country, fire in many places – His Majesty the King has rushed to be with His people; to console them and to support them; and to help them rebuild their homes and their lives.

His Majesty has kept his promise – He has protected us as only a parent can; cared for us as a true brother; and served us as a devoted son. He is the People’s King.

The People’s King has already touched the lives of thousands upon tens of thousands of ordinary Bhutanese. And yesterday, when he announced that, “it is now time for me to marry” His Majesty touched the hearts of an entire nation.

The joyous announcement did not come as a Royal Command. Instead, His Majesty informed the nation personally, without formality and without any attempt to hide his complete sincerity, much like a son informing his parents and his siblings.

Our future queen is Ashi Jetsun Pema. And the royal wedding will take place this October.

The entire nation, like one big family, is already celebrating.

Informing people

Thriving business

Today’s banner features 75-year old Jabari Dan Rai who hails from Dumtoe, a remote gewog in Samtse.

By seven every morning, this remarkably healthy septuagenarian arrives at the Lungtenampa bridge to distribute that day’s newspapers to pedestrians making their ways to school and work.

Bhutan’s media has come a long way. From very humble beginnings in 1967 when Kuensel was started as a government gazette, we now have at least 9 newspapers, 7 radio stations, a TV broadcaster and a growing number of new media sites.

Today’s banner is a simple way of expressing my gratitude to our media, especially our journalists, for working to make sure that the people shall be informed.

Happy World Press Freedom Day!

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.

Great expectations

Tomorrow, registered voters in Thimphu, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing will elect their respective thromde tshogdes or city councils.

As we discussed in my last post, the Thimphu city council – the new mayor in particular – will have to sort out the capital city’s water problems.

But the mayor and his council will also have to attend to many other competing priorities. Sewerage, solid waste, public transport, roads, traffic, housing, schools, fire, parks and income generation are some of the issues that should demand the city council’s immediate attention.

The thrompons of Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing will find that they too will have to address more or less the same issues.

But the biggest and most important responsibility of all four city councils will be to consolidate the powers and authority granted to them by the Constitution. Without these powers, the city councils will not be able to fulfill their Constitutional duties and obligations. And stand little chance of improving our cities.

The banner features the Thimphu City Corporation building, which will house the offices of its new mayor.

Forest fire

Lopa village

Saved ... phew!

The people of Lopa village in Haa, Samar Gewog, did not sleep last night. They stayed up to guard their village – a cluster of mostly old farmhouses at the edge of a pine forest – from wild fires that was spreading through the woodland above their village.

The fire had started yesterday afternoon. And the Haa Dzongdag had quickly mobilized forestry officials, civil servants and community volunteers to fight the blaze. But the fire, which was fanned by strong winds, would not be contained. And by nightfall, the dzongdag wisely called off the fire fighting efforts as boulders, set loose from the rocky outcrop above the village, came hurling down the hillside.

But by the crack of dawn today, dzongkhag officials and volunteers were already battling the fires. This time they were joined by almost a hundred RBA soldiers. And this time they were successful. They bought the fire under control.

Had it not been for the quick response of the dzongkhag and forestry officials, and the help of the army, the fire would have razed Lopa and spread through the neighbouring village of Nobgang to the dense pine forests above Puduna. And the fire would still be raging.

Featured in the banner are the remains of the recent snow that put out a big forest fire in Katsho, and helped contain another one today.

Royal Body Guards

Thank you

The Royal Body Guards are celebrating their golden jubilee today. The banner, featuring RBG’s famous “Gho Company”, congratulates and thanks the commandant, officers and all ranks of the RBG, past and present, for fifty years of dedicated service to the tsa-wa-sum.

RBG’s announcement on this important day follows:

Royal Body Guards was raised on 27th December 1960 to undertake the security responsibilities of His Majesty the Third King. It then just consisted of one Company of 120 men including officers under the Command of 2nd Lt. Tshering Nidup who was later promoted to the rank of Colonel and had the Distinction of being the first Commandant of Royal Body Guards.

Since then RBG grew in numbers and relevance to take up very important assignments in the service of Tsa-Wa-Sum. Today RBG is being commanded by Major General Dhendup Tshering DW, DT under whose leadership RBG promises to make steady progress.

On this auspicious occasion of our 50 years service; officers, men and civilian employees of RBG offer our solemn pledge to serve with loyalty and dedication.

Stop violence against women

Our mothers

“Commit, Act and Demand: We can stop violence against women”

This week’s banner celebrates International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.