Despite public demand, ECB says no facilitation booths for upcoming NA elections

Unlike the 2018 National Assembly Elections, there will be no postal ballot facilitation booths in the upcoming NA Elections. However, voters say providing facilitation booths would encourage more voters to come and exercise their franchise. Facilitation booths which were introduced in the 2018 parliamentary elections were also provided during the 2021 Local Government Elections to all voters across the country to minimise the transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having a postal ballot facilitation booth means a voter need not have to take the trouble of visiting their constituencies to vote.

According to the Postal Ballots Rules and Regulations of The Kingdom of Bhutan 2018, postal ballots are eligible only to diplomats and persons working in the Embassies of the Kingdom of Bhutan, persons residing outside Bhutan for the performance of special government duty, members of the Armed Forces and civil servants. Spouses or dependents residing with individuals in these job categories are also eligible for postal ballots.

Moreover, students, trainees and other groups of voters as specified by the Commission in consultation with the Government are also entitled to postal ballot services.

In the 2021 Local Government Elections, when postal ballot facilitation booth service was provided to voters across the country, the voter turnout saw a drastic improvement with 68.42 per cent of registered voters having come to cast their votes.

The 2016 Local Government Elections saw 58.5 per cent voter turnout.

With 126,304 postal votes, the 2021 Local Government Elections also saw the highest number of postal voters across all elections.

People are calling for the election commission to once again provide the postal ballot facilitation booth service to all voters as in the 2021 Local Government Elections.

“I am doubtful if people from various districts settled in Gelephu will be able to participate in the upcoming elections. From a financial perspective, providing facilitation booths may pose an additional burden to the government. However, if we want to strengthen our democratic system, then it is important to make voting more accessible and convenient. So, in my opinion, providing postal ballot facilitation booths will significantly improve voter participation,” said Thinley Gyamtsho, a resident of Gelephu.

Passang Dorji, a resident in Tsirang says it is “inconvenient when there are no facilitation booths for people residing in remote areas and for the elderly. If we had access to facilitation booths, we would be able to fill out our ballots and cast our votes more easily. Moreover, only a certain section of the voters are entitled to postal ballots whereas we aren’t.”

“Similar to previous LG elections, allowing people to vote from where they live would be very convenient. This would help those who cannot reach their assigned polling stations due to financial and work-related issues and reduce the risk of accidents during travel, which has been a problem during the election period through my observation,” said Chedup, a resident of Phuentshogling.

According to the ECB, facilitation booths were initiated in 2018 to facilitate the registered postal voters and reduce the incidents of postal ballot rejection.

Moreover, the commission said it had to set up facilitation booths during the 2021 Local Government Elections to check the transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the commission said it cannot provide the service in the upcoming National Assembly Elections.

“We are facilitating whatever is in the law such as providing postal ballots and making polling stations wherever necessary. Educating and creating awareness of the importance of voting through different modes such as our people going into the villages in person and informing them and educating them through mass media and social media. It happens once in five years. More than that, I think ECB at the moment is doing whatever is possible within our means and we hope that we are doing enough for our people to come to fulfil their fundamental rights and duties,” said Phub Dorji, Director of the Election Commission of Bhutan.

Meanwhile, postal ballot registration for the upcoming election will end on Friday.

There will be 810 polling stations set up across the country for the upcoming election.

Kinzang Lhadon

Edited by Kipchu

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