In less than two weeks, the country will elect its National Council members.
With election boards now plastered with campaign materials, public debates and common forums underway, and postal ballot envelopes visible, there appears to be some sense, if not enthusiasm, of an election process being underway.
Perhaps, this is because of the nature of the national council’s apolitical status that we hear reports of candidates pooling resources to reach the electorate. In some dzongkhags, candidates are requesting each other, all in good faith, to distribute their placards to the gewogs. In another case, candidates pooled resources to hire a helicopter to attend common forums in gewogs that would otherwise take days to reach on foot.
Elections are a contest for power and influence and campaigns the medium to gain an advantage. Campaigning strategies such as these may not only be for economic reasons but could also be an indication of a maturing democracy, one where its electorate are considered fairly informed. The past elections are lesson enough for us to not make the mistake of assuming the electorate as uninformed and naïve.
Save for few dzongkags and an anxious media arbitrator, the election process appears to be fairly smooth, or so it is claimed. However, issues remain with the recognition of qualification by the Bhutan Accreditation Council and its endorsement by the election commission.
While we commend the decision to allow secondary sources to authenticate university degrees of candidates, we question the council’s decision to keep this information from the people. By the time the council announced the availability of alternative sources to get the qualifications recognised, almost all candidates had completed this process. To blame those who availed of this service is not right because what has unfolded is the making of the council and the commission’s, even if it was done so with good intentions.
The decision to not inform the people has resulted in creating a perception of favouritism. That none of the candidates contesting for a seat in the house of review that oversees lawmaking is questioning or discussing this move is telling.
The council announced that it has approved the Royal Bhutan Army, Royal Civil Service Commission, Bhutan Medical and Health Council and the Supreme Court as alternative institutions that could authenticate university degrees. This move may facilitate the authentication process but it leaves out those employed in the private and corporate sector.
Actions of authorities, especially when tasked with the responsibility to facilitate the election process, must be democratic. It must ensure that its rules are fair and the field levelled so that elected members of the parliament reflect an inclusive representation of the society. Excluding a sector that employs the biggest share of workforce from availing a public service is deplorable.
For all Bhutanese, it is the Notary Public Office that attests documents. Questions are now raised as to why this judicial institution was not considered as an alternative authority to recognise qualifications?
Democracy is about people and their collective will to choose. This means a sound electoral process must ensure free and fair elections and facilitate the selection of capable candidates that represent the interest of the people and the country.