Election in Bhutan

Periodic governments of Bhutan (government mean, king’s government) always propagated that there have been constant and flourishing democratic system in the country. They (autocratic rulers) tried to show such elections whenever they felt necessary to fool the Bhutanese people in the country as well as to the people outside the Bhutan. They do not feel fatigue and hesitation in hatching, boasting and exaggerating so called elections occurred from the time of “Druck Deshis’ (temporal head of state or regent of Sabdung after his death in 16 50-51). They (agents of government) have been saying that the system was invented by Sabdung Nawang Namgyal (spiritual and temporal ruler or unifier of Bhutan) when he was in sacred retreat (death or retreat?). Nevertheless, in so called elections (as government is propagating) since 1651-1951, single ordinary man/woman has not been allowed or involved in the process other than handpicked few clergies or local chieftains, officers from areas such as Panache, Paro, Thimpu and Tongsa who use to take part to install the periodic new Druk Desis.


However, there is a “Ganja ” (an agreement papers) signed and stamped by couple dozen of official who were participated in enthronement of king Ugen Wangchuk (the first king) but that could not be recognize as election in democratic ways because situation of signing and stamping the paper was absolutely under force and fear full condition such as even the seal (stamp) of Shabdrung also was placed under compulsion or in absent of reincarnated Sabdung. It will be better to say that the agreement signed by above said manner may be a byproduct of war fought at Chamlimithang followed by strong support of British India under which no one had chance to express any dis agreement or likeness about the proposed candidate for first king. Thereafter, even the appointment of Je Khempo (head of monks) also was done according to wish of king by bypassing the existing trends of involving some ascetic persons. Third king Jigme Dorjee Wangchuk, who was agreed to establish Stogdu (National assembly or lower house) in 1952 , also was not conducted elections in the villages or districts to select or elect national assembly members or Royal advisory councilors who were supposed to attend the newly established national assembly. In place of election at local level for national assembly or royal advisory council, he intently allowed to represent existing “Gups” (block Mandal appointed by his government on the basis of hereditary system (in southern Bhutan) or in rotation basis (in non-southern Bhutan) until late 1960s. Not only this when he began ever first king’ s cabinet in 1968, that time too, some official under him, his relatives and daughters were brought in the administration and given portfolios. Those portfolios were: home, finance, foreign, trade, and industry and forest ministries. For forest, trade and industry his half Brother Namgyal Wangchuk was appointed as minister. His first daughter Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuk had got ministry of finance and second daughter Ashi Dechhen Wangmo Wangchuk was placed in the ministry of development (all this ministries were key post at that time ). These two princesses were representative of the king in the ministries. Similarly, for the nine members upper house, (called “lode Chhode” literally known as Royal advisory council in Bhutan) the voting was not conducted instead king drew people from different capacity working under his government and allowed them to run newly established body (upper house) from 1965-1977-78.


Probably in 1968-70 (only one time) so-called voting was arranged for evaluate the third king’s popularity. This time too, the voters were only council members and national assembly members and were used crude ballot boxes and papers when Bhutan was preparing to enter in the united nation organization (UNO). Dramatically, in this voting, King Jigme Dorjee Wangchuk (the third king was declared land slide victorious by getting only three negative votes out of 150-52 casted total. It was remarkable to remember that there was no single contesting candidate as an optional choice. In all above, there was a wide rumor that those three negative voters were the three core members of royal family or highly trusted officials who were directed by king himself to cast such negative votes to show that how king is rational and tolerance even at his opposition acts. After completing this drama another gimmick was done, if majority of the national assembly member do not like any minister under king, the same would be removed and new minister would take place by most liking person supported by majority consent votes of national assembly members in the house. Ironically, this provision (election of minister) was never applied until 2003 rather newly enthroned (in 1974) king Jigme singe Wangchuk withdrew booth voting (his own and ministers) system by pretending that such process may encourage dis loyalty, dis integrity and lethargy to work energetically because of uncertainty and short period the post due to periodic elections. Nevertheless the ballot boxes and ballot paper were different from the national assembly hall. In the national assembly, the ballot boxes were wooden containers and ballot papers were small wooden blocks which used to be inserted in the boxes. For the identification of candidates photos were used to clip or adhere at the containers. In such selections, there was 150-52 voters (all assembly members) out of which more than 75 persons were from government offices along with around dozen of monks from only non-southern Bhutanese religious community.


However in the local level, in zones and districts, the Lhostam Chichhap (the southern Chief commissioner) and Dungpa or Ramjam ( SDO ) did not stopped to use the ballot papers and ballot boxes un till 1983 to select the national assembly member and Mandal or Gup. They used piece of paper stamped by his (their) seal for ballot papers and for ballot boxes some “Thotretin” (old and tear tin or wooden containers) were used to kept. To cast the vote, the head of family or his authorized representative was permitted on the basis of house hold (only one vote). Sadly, deaf, dumb and who had not fortunate to have their part of bodies were categorically declared illegitimate to vote or contest any selection in national and local level. In addition to this , the candidate for selection was require to complete his age at least 25 Years but the age of the voter had no mandatory to follow, one vote from one “Dhuri” or family hold was enough . Also, tenures of the member were not general but it use to expire individually of each constituency. Regarding contesting candidate , if they (agents of government) feel, one is not look like a supporter of absolute kingship or keeps different views then the candidate would be eliminate from process by this and that reason in the screening. Questioning on such matter was an act of against the Shawa Sum or anti – national activities which are still exist more vigorously.


The Mandal have to complete 5 years of his tenure and assembly member needed to be reelect within 3 years. Constituencies for both posts are still not equal in deferent zones. For example, in the north and central zone the representatives come from little population. In the east the population mostly is double than north to represent by one representative. In the south one member needs to represent double larger than any other zones. For example, in Lhostam, one assembly member has to represent 4-7 blocks (Geog). In the north, one “chimi” or member from one “Geog” (bloc) has got privilege to represent. In spite of above said monopoly and inequalities southern Bhutanese were always successes to send more vocal, politically conscious and bold persons in the assembly from mid seventy to first eighties. Similarly, Mandal in the Bloks (Geog) also used to come more popular and educated than before. They (Mandals and Members) were fortunate to build mutual understanding for selecting more public oriented subjects to discus in the fourth coming national assemblies and in the local levels. For instance, they choose the agenda of equal citizenship rights among all Bhutanese. Also, it was expressed that the budget allocation criteria for developmental activities must be done according population and necessity basis. As a result of these initiatives, people started to watch and point out the issues of corruption done by the officials in developmental activities. These topics began to become the subject of appeal to the king during his visits or matters of forwarding for the agenda to include in the “stogdu”( parliament ) through their national assembly members from constituencies. Above to this, matter relating to national interests such as boarder encroachment from Indian site at Sarbhang and Gaylegphug, Paro and Haa were main topics among the cases to be discussion in the assembly. More than that, the permanent residence of foreign uniformed persons such as “Imtrat”, “Dantak” and geological survey of India began to take place for hot debate in the house.

Also, expanding of more diplomatic relations of Bhutan with the foreign nations in the globe and establishment of Bhutan airline connections with nations were another subject to debated.


Unfortunately, these concerns became the eyesores to those who were getting benefits by manipulating these vital subjects through keeping poppets in their hefty fist. Consequently, the system of the above said new voting began after 1974-75 became the main target of hitting and got change by following middle aged process in the name of Bhutanese tradition, under Diglam namza or one nation one people in 1984-85.

According to so called Bhutanese system for voting and contesting election, the ballot boxes, ( Thotre tins) ballot paper (stamped piece of paper) and one vote from one family were replaced by home ministry under it subordinate offices. By this development, the Dzongda and Dungpa were empower to make list of the probable candidates from Karbari level ( sub villages level) with the help of his trusted person or spy from relating places and use to picked up 4- 5 candidates for vote of Mandals post and Assembly members. After completing above back ground, they (officers) deliver their introductory speeches regarding proposed candidates by making sure that among the listed person best of his choices (mostly priority 1-3) to be endured by the people in gathering by standing behind the candidates in rows on the election ground. If selection conducting officer or administrator is not satisfied in the endorsement and have got majority by less desirous person to them, then the officer keep pending the result to declare in the pretext that he need to be get approval from higher authority or have to gather more information relating to candidate activities and character.


Despite of having above said advantages and supportive situations for monopoly in selections by government officer, they called once more the system as null and void by saying that this may segregates the society in groups and is not matching with the Bhutanese tradition and costume according to Palden Drukpa and Diglam Namja .


Thereafter, every selection in the areas came to scrutiny under Dzongdah or (district administrator) “Dzonkhak Yarge Stokchhuk” (district development committee). This committee was constituted by village “stokpa” (village members from every sub villages) under Blok or village head office (Geog). Above to him (sub village members), related Mandal (Gup), related Dungpa or RamJam, ( sub divisional officer under home ministry) used to be member along with different sub divisional level departmental heads from all ministries and concerning assembly members in the Dzonkha Yare Stokchhuk (district development committee). The committee was headed by Dzongda. Under him, Dzongda Wongma (deputy district head) automatically holds the post of vice chair and one of the Dungpa or Ramjam appointed as secretary of the committee to supervise and decide all the performances even of any election or else. In new formation, majority of the member consisted from government official in the districts or sub districts and were empowered to select Mandal and members (public representative posts) though they were purely government appointee and had no relation or purpose with public representation.


Again in 2005, to preempt the ongoing democratic movement began from southern and eastern Bhutan since 9th October 1988 (17 years old agitation against autocratic system ), the king’s government brought another voting system based on rotation. In this too, members of the cabinet were promoted as prime minister for one year term for five years and vote was conducted by existing national assembly members only. But, this gimmick also could not success to block the demand of establishing democracy and human right. In the other hand, international community also not seems convince for establishing real democracy by series of above tricks done in different times.


Again in 2008, king’s government was forced to orchestrate another drama to show democratic reforms. As a result, it declared first general election by bringing two core member of royal family for contest the election as party heads who were serving under king Jigme Singe Wangchuk (35-38 years) since his enthronement and were highly trusted for implementing ethnic cleansing and preserving and promoting the king’s veto ( autocratic power). In this first general election, more than eighty thousand adult people from Sarstock (eastern Bhutan) and Nepali (southern Bhutanese) community were not allowed to participate in the process by alleging that their relatives or family members are in refugee camp in Nepal or in jail due to anti stawa sum or treason . (According to this clause three elements are un-challengeable in Bhutan). Dramatically, in this Play, Jigme Y Thinley’s won 44seat out of 47 in 2008-13”.


In 2013, second general election was staged without allowing the political parties fighting for democracy since 1990 from exile. Nevertheless, this election became very special in the history of Bhutan. This time, the voice against sheer monopoly done by government and election commission was opposed from inside the country, after 1909. In this regard, Mr Jigme Y thinly has given resignation from the post of parliamentarian and has not accepted the post of opposition leader until the corruption occurred during election is not investigated satisfactorily. Also, his party submitted a written complain having 15 point to investigate. This complaint was deliberately ignored by the king and handed over to kuenzang Wangdi, the election chief commissioner. In this context, Jigme Y Thinle publicly spoke and said that nobody can pull or alleviate him. More significantly, the capital Thimpu became witness of having posters against monopoly in length and breath. Above to this, public of Pemagatsel (where from Jigme Y Thinle was elected) constituency expressed their dissatisfaction by dis mounting the photo of the king from the office room and tramped it by lying on the surface of floor. Similarly, in Bumthang (the birth place of Jigme Y Thinle) the picture of king was pulled and thrown out it violently from office.


Actually the polling percent in the first round of election , Mr Jigme Y Thinle’s party was leading toward landslide victory and Tshering Tobge (TT or present ruling party leader) was trailing in extreme behind from him (former prime minister’s party). But by the usual grace of Bhutan’s heaviest power, MR TT was brought in winning position with two third majorities in the second round of election and crowned as leader in the second parliament formed for 2013-18.


Remarkably the margin of winning party, have changed this time and shown only 2/3 majority which used to shown almost 95% victory in the past. According to new strategy, TT got only 32 seats to lead the government and JYT got 15 seats to lead the opposition bench in the parliament.


In Bhutan if the king (real king who has deciding strength and remote control in hand) wants anything then the things are possible to him because no one can reject his wish constitutionally or by any other means. As a result, this power is free to manipulate, maneuver or convert anything including constitution according to his whims. All the constitutional institutions under this document have no authority, courage and right to dis obey, remark and oppose or amend king’s version even if he orders verbally. Not only this, being a supreme commander in chief, (police , Royal body guard , militia and royal Bhutan army ) he reserved all the power of commanding to any arm forces and can procure and store intended arm and ammunition anywhere. He has direct link with India where from military equipment’s are procure. In the other hand to support him, embassy of India in Bhutan, the Supreme Court, election commission and other so called constitutional bodies are stand by to performed the task desired and directed by their loving supreme commander or friend . For example, the chief justice of Supreme Court, Sonam Tobge (who is very renounced for highly trustworthy of the king) is constitutionally empowered to lead the government during election for 90 days. Likewise, Kunjang Wangi, a very much faithful servant of palace is alert to full feel remaining works through so called election for which he was appointed by King Jigme Singe during his time.


Last but not the least, in the both election since 2008 and 13 the candidates were allowed to deliver speeches only in Dzongkha which is strange to 85% of total population in eastern, central and southern Bhutan. If the proposed candidate is not able to speak Dzongkha he/ she was prohibited from standing in the election for vote as result Kheng (public of Sem Gang and Tongsha), Sarchops (eastern Bhutanese) and southern Bhutanese and many aborigine thrives in the country were compelled to vote to those Dzonkha speaker or Gnalung candidate only despite of having right to select their own representative according to international standard or UNO.