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Voter turnout

Democracy, as it is said, is not just only about elections, where citizens decide to empower a selected few to govern for the next five years.

It is about building strong, independent and transparent institutions, protecting basic rights, active citizens that hold government and leaders accountable, and rule of law.

Yet elections are the starting point of it all, and one of the most basic elements of a democratic system.

It is that basic right, where the electorate decides who it wants to govern the country and, whom it does not want to give power to.

In that context, a free and fair election brings legitimacy to the government formed by the people.  Which means that every citizen, who is eligible, should participate in the act of choosing leaders.

Bhutan’s transition to a democracy has always been touted as a smooth and successful one, because there were no untoward situations and, more importantly, close to 80 percent of the electorate took part in the first general elections in 2008, to elect a government and members of parliament.

This turnout impressed a lot of older and larger democracies, simply because they no longer see large numbers of their citizens exercising their right to vote.  In some democracies, citizens take the day off and stay at home on Election Day.  So what you get is a smaller number of people choosing for the rest.

With our next elections only several months away, there is ongoing debate and discussions on what type of turnout the 2013 general elections might see.

In the 2008 elections, everyone went out of their way to vote and make the transition a success, even if it meant travelling by road for a day or two.

Today, after almost five years with the parliamentary system of governance, the electorate has moved a distance.

Citizens want to participate in choosing who forms the government, and who represents them in parliament, but may not participate if it’s going to be a hassle, an inconvenience.

There has already been quite a bit discussed and written about if the general elections falls at the height of the monsoon, when it is not only difficult but also risky to travel.

Then there is a possibility of electorate having to vote thrice this time, once in the primary, and then for the council, and finally the general election.

Others are more specifically concerned of the postal ballot vote, most of which were not counted in the last elections, because of filling errors and wrong addresses.

Can this be avoided in the next election, so that every vote counts?  Can anything be done to make voting much more convenient for the electorate?

This should be a priority, if the idea is to get the maximum participation of the people, and remove any reason for apathy to set in.


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