March 2009 has seen several ‘firsts’ for BRIDGE and the Electoral Commission (ECB) in Bhutan:
Kinley, Jamtsho Tshewang and Kibu Zangpo become the first accredited BRIDGE Workshop Facilitators in Bhutan – What a fantastic achievement?
The District Electoral Officers and staff from ECB become the first group of electoral administrators to successfully complete both BRIDGE Foundation Modules – Introduction to Electoral Administration and Strategic and Financial Planning – What a cause for celebration?
This is my first opportunity to visit Bhutan – What a remarkable privilege?
The beginning of BRIDGE in Bhutan is a significant step towards building a broader knowledge and skill base for the ECB staff. The blossoming relationship between the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and the ECB has already made a positive and successful beginning. This relationship will be significantly strengthened by on-going interactions on several levels.
Some comments from the ‘first’ participants include:
"BRIDGE is enlightening and enriching ….."
"The new facilitators have improved as the days have gone by…confidence in delivery has increased … keep it up … wish you all the best for the future!"
"The modules I have undertaken have given me extensive learning …."
‘BRIDGE has for me disseminated critical analysis in election management … fruitful and informative … "
Quotes from the first Bhutanese BRIDGE Facilitators:
"BRIDGE opened my eyes to the world of facilitation, which is not as easy as people think it is"
"It’s not the ordinary BRIDGE that we have in Bhutan, but like a suspension bridge which makes us think twice before crossing it, as is the case with this BRIDGE that is challenging to be one of its Facilitators"
"The surest way to pass is to determine not to fail"
The AEC, and its BRIDGE Partners, through the BRIDGE Office will offer support to the ECB officers who will be responsible for the further implementation of BRIDGE in Bhutan. ECB staff will be making use of the newly published BRIDGE Implementation Manual. Decisions will be made, and funding sought, to implement an appropriate choice of content and possible modules and workshops that will meet the needs of the staff and stakeholders of the ECB. Attention will also be paid to:
At some stage in the future a BRIDGE Train the Facilitator workshop may be considered to increase the pool of BRIDGE facilitators in Bhutan and thereby make the continuing use of BRIDGE sustainable within the ECB and Bhutan.
Celebrations of the significance of BRIDGE’s birth in Bhutan were conducted at both the beginning – the workshops were graciously opened at a ceremony attended by the first Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, and the other dignitaries from across the administration of Phuentsholing. The closing festivities – speeches, tea and fabulous dancing and singing – acknowledged the successful achievements of the participants and the facilitators. You can see from the sheer glee expressed in the photos following how happily all involved celebrated BRIDGE ‘firsts’ in Bhutan. Long may it continue!
Background on the history and development of the Election Commission of Bhutan by Tshering Dorji
The draft Constitution was unveiled on 26th March 2005 and Their Majesties the Kings visited for the next two years of 2005 and 2006 all the twenty Dzongkhags to explain and consult on the draft Constitution. According to the draft Constitution, the form of government to be is Democratic Constitutional Monarchy, and directed amongst other constitutional offices, for establishment of the Election Commission of Bhutan.
In keeping with the provisions of draft Constitution, and to prepare for the political transition, His Majesty the King through a Royal Decree on 31st December 2006 appointed Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, the then Auditor General as the first Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan. The Royal Decree commanded the Chief Election Commissioner to the following four major tasks.
a. Make full preparations for the supervision, direction, control and conduct of elections to Parliament and Local Government.
b. Delimit the constituencies for the National Assembly and Local Government elections.
c. Finalize the electoral rolls and election schedule.
d. Conduct training and familiarization for the people in the electoral process during the next two years in 2006 and 2007 so that the general elections in the country can be carried out successfully in the year 2008.
There was then no electoral institution or system in the country. The Chief Election Commissioner with a small group of administrative and finance staff formally opened the Election Commission of Bhutan office in Thimphu on 16th January 2006.
The Chief Election Commissioner’s immediate task was the identification, recruitment and appointment of officers from other Government ministries and agencies to form the core team of election officials. No staff member had prior knowledge and experience in electoral laws, planning and administration.
As the ECB had just less than two years to prepare and conduct the historic Parliamentary Elections in 2008, it did not have the luxury to orient and train its newly appointed officers on election matters or seek advice and support from outside Bhutan, except for occasional visits to India for election observations. All officers had to learn their duties and functions on the job working for hours on end, even on weekends and public holidays.
During the same period, the ECB, in order to ensure that the first Parliamentary Elections are conducted in a free and fair manner, drafted three Election Bills and numerous electoral by-laws and other implementation and strategy documents.
The ECB completed the delimitation of 47 National Assembly constituencies by March 2007.
The ECB also had to educate and inform the Bhutanese electorate in preparations for parliamentary elections and beyond for which two rounds nation-wide mock elections were conducted, reached out to over 200,000 voters in direct voter education and training programs and produced a number of print and multi-media voter education and information materials, while over 6000 government officers and 6000 security personnel were trained for election duties and assignments.
The National Assembly Elections were conducted on 24th March 2008. The voter turn-out was 79.4% with a total of 253,012 voters voting out of the total of 318,465 registered voters. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa won 45 out of 47 seats and was declared the Winning Party, and People’s Democratic Party with two seats as the Opposition Party.
Both international and national election observers have noted that preparations and the conduct of the historic Parliamentary Elections proceeded in a highly professional, and free and fair manner.
Preparations are currently underway for the conduct of Local Government Elections. Lessons learned in BRIDGE will be applied by the District Electoral Officers during the voter education on the Local Government Elections.