| Kunzang Wangdi, the chief election commissioner of Bhutan. Picture by Subhas Chandra Bose
Jaigaon, April 1: Bhutan is going to the polls on April 21 for the preliminary rounds, and on May 28, for the final show.
It is official except that it is a mock poll being conducted by the Election Commission of Bhutan. The idea is to put in place a trial run before the Himalayan kingdom goes for the actual elections in 2008 to set up a democratic government.
Kunzang Wangdi, the chief election commissioner of Bhutan, announced the date of the mock ballot in a notification issued on March 26 under the provisions of the kingdom’s Election Bill. “On Saturday, April 21, all 20 districts will hold the preliminary round in which four mock political parties will participate. The best two parties will go for the general elections on May 28, Monday,” Wangdi said over phone from Thimpu.
He said the only difference between the trial polls and the proper one was that during the mock run there would be no actual political party contesting.
The commission has created Druk Red Party, Druk Blue Party, Druk Green Party and Druk Yellow Party for the trial run. High school students will contest as mock candidates. The chief commissioner, however, has made it clear that in the preliminary round only the four symbolic parties would be voted. The students will participate in the May polls.
Wangdi said the elections would be conducted between 9 am and 5 pm Bhutan time and electronic voting machines would be used. Polling personnel will also use indelible ink to mark the fingers of voters after they cast their ballots.
The commission has assigned three polling officers to each polling station and an election coordinator for each district. Returning officers and presiding officers will be appointed on April 14 from among government employees.
On the same day, supervisors and assistants for counting the ballots will be named.
In response to a question, Wangdi said: “The total number of voters is 4,00,626 in a population of 5,52,996. We have 47 seats that will make up the first national assembly of the Himalayan kingdom. The least number of seats in a district is two and the maximum is seven. There are 884 polling stations in all.”
“We have already frozen the electoral rolls a month before the mock elections. From March 21 onwards, no more names have been included in the list, but people who have been left out can register for inclusion in the rolls for the actual elections next year,” Wangdi said.
Like others in his country a Phuentsholing trader, not wanting to be named, is apprehensive about the elections. “We have no idea what elections are. We are have heard about the good and the bad sides of political parties and so we are sort of worried about the votes next year. The mock polls will give us some idea about the democratic process,” he said.
Wangdi said the media will be allowed to cover the trial run as part of the exercise. “They will of course have to follow guidelines while covering the polls and the Royal Bhutan Army and the Royal Bhutan Police will be at hand to tackle any law and order problems,” he added. The commissioner said he hoped that the drill was successful and useful to the kingdom.