dis-Ability with traits to lead

Five persons living with disabilities come forward as aspiring local leaders for the third LG elections

By Tashi Namgyal/Thimphu

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­For the first time, two male and three female persons living with disabilities formed the cohort of 2,195 eligible citizens who sat for the Functional Literacy Test (FLT) conducted by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) ahead of the Local Government (LG) elections scheduled to take place later this year.

A total of 1,823 male and 372 female candidates appeared the test on Friday in 152 test centres across the country, taken to the gewog level in order to encourage more people to partake in LG elections.

“It is a good sign that people with disabilities are also coming forward to take part in this important milestone,” an official from ECB reiterated. She added that it must be because of the rigorous public awareness campaigns the Commission undertook which made the people wary of their rights and privileges despite their disabilities.

Although a total of 3,637 individuals registered for the test, the ECB in a press release stated that it barred individuals who turned up without Voter Photo Identity Card (VPIC) or Citizenship Identity Cards (CID) from sitting for the test. The candidates, ECB said, were notified ahead of time to come with the documents. 

Both written and VIVA-VOCE (oral) tests were conducted on the same day complying with strict Covid-19 health protocols.

ECB conducts the FLT in accordance to Section 21(d) of the Election Act, which states that “A person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of a Local Government if he or she is functionally literate and possesses skills adequate to discharge his or her responsibilities as certified by the Election Commission of Bhutan or possessing a formal degree in the case of candidates for Thrompon.”

However, aspiring candidates who possess FLT certificates, including those from the first LG elections, need not take the test again. But many say that in view of increased powers and functions of LG, the standard of FLT should be upgraded as the Election Act does not prescribe any formal qualification. 

Prescribing that a local leader should be able to read and understand government documents, a former local leader in Tsirang said that it was also important for local leaders to be literate in English since not all government documents are communicated in the national language.

The present LG members will resign in the last week of October and the elections will be held on schedule with Covid-19 safety protocols. The LGs, as per the Election Act, should be reconstituted within 90 days from the date of their dissolution.

According to ECB, the standard operating procedure (SOP) that was implemented in the recent parliamentary by-elections and thromde elections would be followed.

Meanwhile, more aspiring local leaders are expected to take part in the upcoming LG elections compared with the previous elections since many people have migrated to their villages where they hold their censuses because of the pandemic.

 Moreover, the incentives for local leaders are good enough to attract more educated and capable candidates than in the past elections.

“We are seeing a massive influx of educated people back to their villages because of the pandemic which is a good sign because the voters will have plenty of choices to make,” an aspiring candidate from Mendrelgang said.

The voter turnout is further expected to increase if enough polling booths are set up and postal ballot services facilitated with time by the ECB.

The last LG election in 2016 was 55.8 percent, slightly dipping from the first LG elections that saw 56.23 percent voter turnout.

Along with representatives from the 205 gewogs and 1,044 chiwogs in the country, Dzongkhag Thromde (town) thuemis will also be elected during the elections at the end of this year.

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