Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Amendment of Electoral Laws

According to a report in the Kuensel of September 19, the National Council has initiated a discussion on the electoral corruptions that were reported during our last General Elections. I am happy that some of the Members of the Upper House have accepted that there were incidences of corruption and malpractices during our last General Elections. I offer those Honorable Members my heartiest congratulations. The first step to correcting flaws in the rules is to accept that they exist. There is no merit in crying over what could have been - a progressive society always looks forward and the way forward is to learn from past mistakes and ensure that they are not repeated.
There are a huge lot of problems with our electoral laws. They need to be amended. Having already gone through two General Elections, we are now fairly aware where the faults lie. I am not blaming the laws - I accept that they were made with the very best intensions but the fact that they were inadequate and failed the people miserably - only proves my point that I have always made:

How is it possible for a nation of people steeped in a monarchic culture - to frame laws and define processes - as to how democracy must function?

I wish I had the time to go into details of what needs changed - if I had I would have been happy to offer suggestions, as a concerned citizen. But for now, I do have to offer three suggestions:

1.  EVMs
2.  Language of Campaign
3.  Powers of the ECB as a regulatory authority

1.  EVMs

At the top of the list of what is wrong in our electoral process is - the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Our last election has proven that they stifle the voice of the people. EVMs are electronic devices that are slaves to the dictates of their masters – the programmers.

We should do away with them IMMEDIATELY.

Because of their proven vulnerability, not many countries around the world use them during elections - or have abandoned their use. They can be programmed to declare results that are pre-determined. Thousands of man-hours have been spent studying the vulnerability of the EVMs and one report among the thousands undertaken, reads as follows (I am referring to Indian experience since our EVMs are manufactured in India):

……. In recent years there have been numerous allegations and press reports of election irregularities involving Indian EVMs. It is difficult to assess the credibility of these charges, since there has apparently never been a prosecution related to EVM fraud, and there has never been a post-election audit to attempt to understand the causes. Nevertheless, they paint a troubling picture of election security in India.
…… Especially troubling are reports that when the voter pressed a button for one candidate, a light would flash for another, which could be explained by a simple attack on the EVM cable. Rao also relates reports from prominent politicians that engineers approached them in 2009 offering to fix elections through this method.
….. Despite elaborate safeguards, India’s EVMs are vulnerable to serious attacks. Dishonest insiders or other criminals with physical access to the machines at any time before ballots are counted can insert malicious hardware that can steal votes for the lifetime of the machines. Attackers with physical access between voting and counting can arbitrarily change vote totals and can learn which candidate each voter selected.
….. It is highly doubtful that these problems could be remedied by simple upgrades to the existing EVMs or election procedures. Merely making the attacks we have demonstrated more difficult will not fix the fundamental problem: India’s EVMs do not provide transparency, so voters and election officials have no reason for confidence that the machines are behaving honestly.
India should carefully reconsider how to achieve a secure and transparent voting system that is suitable to its national values and requirements. One option that has been adopted in other countries is to use a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), which combines an electronic record stored in a DRE with a paper vote record that can be audited by hand. Another option is precinct-count optical scan (PCOS) voting, where voters fill out paper ballots that are scanned by a voting machine at the polling station before being placed in a ballot box. Attacking either of these systems would require tampering with both the paper records and the electronic records, provided that routine audits are performed to make sure these redundant sets of records agree.
.…. Despite all of their known weaknesses, simple paper ballots provide a high degree of transparency, so fraud that does occur will be more likely to be detected.
Using EVMs in India may have seemed like a good idea when the machines were introduced in the 1980s, but science’s understanding of electronic voting security - and of attacks against it - has progressed dramatically since then, and other technologically advanced countries have adopted and then abandoned EVM-style voting.

2.  Language of Campaign

I have said this in one of my earlier articles - the party candidates must be allowed to campaign in a language in which he/she is skilled. To force the candidates to speak in Dzongkha defeats the very purpose for which election campaigns are conducted. Not many Bhutanese understand Dzongkha and not many speak it. Regional languages are as important as Dzongkha.

3.  Powers of the ECB
The ECB is too autocratic. Their powers need to be moderated. It has also become evident that there must be a democratic process to decision making. What we have seen so far is that the ECB is the absolute and final authority and they alone can decide - without recourse to an alternate view or dispute settlement.

In my view the weakest link in our democratic process has been the ECB and the absolute powers they have been empowered with.


  1. Additional amendments that may be looked into:
    1. Coalition after Primary : Due to lack of clarity in the Act and Rules and Regulations, the ECB is too much room for interpretation and misinterpretation on the issue. Clarity needs to be provided on the requirements (security clearance, RUB certificate, NOC from RCSC or employers, etc) of the list of candidates during registration, minimum number of registered party members per Constituency/Dzongkhag,
    2. Establish clear cut penalties for non-adherence to electoral law, rules and regulations : Example of disqualifying candidates during LG election for giving few bottles of beer whereas in NA monetary fines were levied and issuance of reprimands for bribing in thousands.

    3. Clear Rules & Regulations and penalties on compulsory debates and common forums.

  2. Come on guys, the do's and don't in the ECB Act have been kept opaque for a reason, so crying foul out here is not going change anything. As far as I am concerned, what is being discussed in the NC in regard to election fraud is just an eyewash. After what transpired in the 2013 elections, I have lost complete faith in our fledgling democracy. Cheers.

  3. every complaint of bribery etc., received by ECB should be put up on the ECB website with names of people and places involved and action taken by ECB. That way everyone can check for themselves and know what action was taken (or not). This will immediately show any inconsistencies in the way ECB deals with complaints and reportst and force the ECB to discharge their functions consistently and fairly.

    The way postal ballots are conducted needs to be changed completely. Bhutan is so small that everyone is so closely connected to someone who did something or was obliged to do something. The last elections saw the loss of faith and trust of a large section of society. A society with no faith or trust within itself is a weak society/nation and will not be able to withstand the smallest attack because it is completely fractured within. Bhutan is so small, that unity is our only strength. Without unity we are a house with a broken door. Do we want that

  4. given the RAA findings, both parties should be disqualified as they do not have RAA clearance. How did ECB clear these two parties to contest the elections. Tsk tsk tsk thats a really serious lapse on their part. Why did RAA not bring the ECB to task before this? Now bring in Chirwang and Nyamrup as the ruling and opposition and we can end this commedy of errors in a befitting manner.

  5. For unity, we must have faith and trust. Faith and trust exist when ruling institutions show themselves to be fair and just. The smallness of bhutan gives a natural transparency, so fairness and justice are not so just perceptions but the real thing. In Bhutan everyone literally know what evryone else has done or is doing. So people see right through all posturing.