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April 23 is NC poll day

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ecbChief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi displays Royal Decree calling National Council elections at a press briefing yesterday

For which more than 387,700 voters are eligible to vote 

Elections 2013 : National Council: In exactly six weeks from tomorrow, Bhutan will go to the polls once more.

Yesterday, the election commission announced April 23 as the day to usher in the second set of National Council.

This was “in obedience” to the Royal Decree issued on March 9, to ensure the House was re-constituted on the date of expiry of the first council’s term due on April 28.

“The election will be held in each of the 20 dzongkhags, and contested by nominees of respective gewogs or dzongkhag thromdes, whose nominations are accepted,” chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, launching the notification on council election schedule, said.

About 850 polling stations will be established across the country for the election.

There will also be 4,651 election officials deployed, besides the security personnel and other government officials, “indirectly backstopping” the conduct of the election.

Records show more than 40 new aspiring candidates have come forward to take part in the election so far, while some of the incumbents are also joining in.

All the aspirants will have to secure nomination from the gewog or dzongkhag thromde first through zomdu process, which will take off from March 12.

The commission also released draft electoral roll yesterday, which revealed about 387,733 voters eligible to vote for the election.  Of the total, 192,076 are male and 195,657 are female.

“It will be open for public viewing, for them to make claims and objections, till March 20,” chief election commissioner said, adding, after March 23, it will no longer be accessible for any correction.

All those, who are not younger than 18 years of age as of January 1, 2013, will be deemed to be registered voters.

The commission has also listed about 49,706 postal voters for now.  The figures, however, could alter, based on the feedback received during the “claims and objections” period.

Meanwhile, the election campaign will take off from April 1, which is also the last day of scrutiny of nomination papers.  Candidates, whose nominations have been accepted by the returning officers, could head for the campaign immediately.

“Candidates, who have their nomination papers accepted, can file application for campaign fund, and we’ll make sure it’s dispersed immediately,” Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said.

During the campaign period, the election authorities will call electorates, after agreeing on mutually agreed time and date, so that all candidates, who are interested, could address them.

“Nonetheless, if a candidate is still interested to conduct door to door campaign or separate meetings, they can do so with approval of returning officer,” he said.

In respecting the privacy of the voters, these activities will have to be conducted only between 7am and 8 pm.

As for religious events, he said, while they have already advised that for stipulated election period, no such event should be planned, there were some home or community based activities that cannot be stopped for various reasons.

However, if events, such as tordog and torphang, or rimdos that invoked certain figures, deities and objects that are perceived as having effects on somebody’s luck or fortune, are detected, he said, there would be legal consequences.

After the last date of withdrawal of candidates, which is on April 3, a series of public debates will be arranged.

“This is in principle compulsory but a candidate may opt not to attend on valid grounds,” chief election commissioner said, adding, if found there wasn’t any, it would have adverse consequences.

“It’s important for them to be present and debate on issues they’d like to address if elected so that people could make informed choice,” he said.

While government had earlier proposed possibilities of carrying out “early voting” or extending polling stations in urban places, among others, for voting convenience, he said the commission looked into it, but a need for further study was felt.

Instead, the commission had been “liberal” to the extent possible in extending postal ballot facilities for all those who were interested.

Besides the people living abroad, they have also agreed to include patients and escorts in hospitals in Vellore and Kolkata in India, following their request.

The commission, for the first time, is also introducing voter identification verification through use of biometric technology in 30 “pilot and larger” polling stations across the country.

“We’re using larger polling stations, so that it will cut down waiting time for the voters,” he said, adding, for the future election, they would like to extend this to all the dzongkhags, provided there was financial support.

Meanwhile, an overall Nu 500M budget has been allocated for whole of parliamentary elections.  For council election, among others, a “direct cost” of Nu 332,500 has been estimated for each candidate.

“We have left no stone unturned and we’d also like to leave nothing to chance,” Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said.

By Kesang Dema

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