With the royal decree calling the national assembly elections and election commission issuing the notification calling the elections, Bhutan has officially entered its third election period.
In less than a month’s time, the country will head to the polls for the primary round. The commission has set September 15 as poll day for the primaries, where voters will vote on the symbols of the political parties to decide the parties that will make it through to the general round on October 18.
Political parties and candidates who were waiting for the poll dates to be announced will soon fan out across the country to meet the electorate, even though most have completed a round of tours. Most see this as campaigning or familarisation, or both, but the official campaign period begins two days later on August 22.
Civil servants and parliament members, however, are advised to refrain from travelling unless necessary. This is also the period when the candidates do not wear their symbols of power, insignias, and titles and a time when the party machinery get more aggressive with their politicking. Mudslinging, which has been on-going on social media, is likely to spill over into the fields and homes. Party leaders must watch the behaviour of their over zealous party workers, whose activities have given politicking a negative connotation.
And unlike the disinterest among the electorate in the first elections, and apprehension in the second, there is a sense of excitement and anxiety this time round. The impressive turnout at party conventions, the growing number of postal ballot voters, the level of preparedness among the parties and to some extent the social media feeds indicates that we have become more responsible. In the last election, the parties submitted their letter of intent few hours before the deadline. Today, all parties say they are ready to submit their letter of intent with one submitting it hours after the commission issued the notification. Perhaps, their readiness could be one of the reasons why the commission gave parties four days instead of seven to submit the letter of intent. About hundred thousand voters have already registered for postal ballot facilities.
In the last two elections, voters went to the polling stations to cast their votes or posted their ballots. This time, the voting booths are taken to the people and in making the voting process easier, the commission has enthused the electorate to participate in the elections.
These are progressive developments. It shows that we are maturing as a democracy and taking our responsibilities seriously. With every election we have learnt and understood that all our other rights rests on our right to vote and that elections are as much about political parties as they are about the people and the country.
As the country prepares to go to the polls for the third time, we must remember that the democratic process the country has embarked on is an enlightened initiative from the throne.
It is our responsibility to hold a good election. It is our responsibility to make it work.