Bhutan: Election Commisson urges parties to refrain from political activities

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - The Election Commission of Bhutan, for the second time, has written to political parties to refrain from organising party activities until the completion of National Council elections next month.

“I would like to earnestly request the political parties to kindly refrain from party activities such as introduction of new candidates and visit to the constituencies till the completion of the National Council (House of Review/Upper House) Elections in April, 2018,” the March 12 letter from the commission’s secretary Dawa Tenzin states. “This is to avoid unnecessary miscommunications to the electorates.”

Political activities have however, been on - going since the commission issued a notification calling the National Council elections on February 16.

On February 28, the erstwhile Druk Chirwang Tshogpa called a press conference announcing its alleged merger with Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). Soon after, DPT issued a press release stating that it was not a merger.

Yesterday, the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) announced two candidates, Sherub Phuntsho from Menbi - Tshenkhar constituency from Lhuentse and Dhamber Ghimeray from Tsirangtoe- Sergithang constituency from Tsirang.

The ECB had first written to the parties to immediately stop party related tours and activities on February 15 stating that the commission has received the royal decree calling the national council elections. “It is a gentle reminder to all the political parties to stop immediately the party related tours and activities undertaken by the MPs, party leaders and candidates in the districts and constituencies,” the letter from the secretary Dawa Tenzin states.

Political parties said they received the second letter from the commission yesterday.

A press release from BKP states that building a vibrant democracy is every citizens’ sacred responsibility and that BKP respects the greater responsibility the Election Commission of Bhutan bears.

“However, restraining political parties from launching their candidates to the extent of disallowing social media posting and curtailing media from keeping the people informed is undesirable,” the press release states. “End- less “do’s” and “don’ts” inject fear, distrust and suspicion in society. In such an environment, strong foundation for a vibrant democracy will never be laid. There are deeper and bigger issues that we have to address, individually and collectively. One way is through consultations involving all stakeholders promoting consensus, which is in the interest of democracy and overall growth of society.”

DPT’s secretary general Ugyen Dorji said the party has no plans to declare any candidates and has also in- formed its candidates to not engage in activities that could be construed as campaigning. “We will refrain from posting on social media until the national council elections are over,” he said. “Declaring candidates do not make sense when we are not allowed to go on tours.”

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) president, Dr Tandi Dorji said his party is strictly following the commission’s instructions and has refrained from making any statements. “We have recalled all our candidates from the fields and ECB’s concerns on this is correct,” he said.

Secretary general of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Sonam Jatsho said the party has not declared any new candidate and has also informed all MPs to refrain from travelling to their constituencies. “We have to have this rule and NC has to stay apolitical,” he said.

Media coverage
Unlike the political parties, the commission has not written to the media houses on covering political activities during the National Council elections.

But, during a sensitisation meeting between the media houses and the media arbitrator on March 8, the election commission officials said that they discourage coverage on political activities and have also requested the parties to refrain from organising activities.

It has been learnt the political parties as well as National Council nominees have been requested to remove their ‘thank you’ posts from their social media pages. According to election commission officials, comments generated through such posts could be construed as campaigning, which is why the candidates are requested to refrain from posting online.

Election officials however, gave mixed responses to Kuensel when it sought clarification on reporting political activities. One official said it would not be wrong to report on the activities if the nominee meeting in that particular district  has concluded.

Another official after consultation with the commission secretary, said to refrain from covering because the election process is still on and the third official said that he was not involved in reaching this decision on media coverage.

Secretary Dawa Tenzin said the commission has written to the political parties and has no clarifications to give to the media.

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