Bhutan’s democracy has come a long way in a short time and it has done so in a climate of peace and relative national harmony. The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and the other democratic institutions of Bhutan are to be congratulated for this. However, the ECB is very aware that the building of a sustainable electoral culture requires the informed participation of the citizenry. As part of a long-term strategy to build such a culture, the leadership of the ECB is using the Civic Education and Voter Information Modules of BRIDGE as a platform that will allow key figures from the ECB, the Gewogs (local government areas) and the Education Ministry, to explore and develop approaches to Civic and Voter Education programs for Bhutan.
The ECB and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) have worked in partnership on the delivery of an AusAID-funded BRIDGE program over a number of years now. This partnership was strengthened on the 28th of May with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations. Immediately after that, two back to back combined Civic Education and Voter Information Modules were conducted in Paro for 60 participants (30 in each) selected from the ECB, Gewog administrations, school principals and secondary school teachers. Here participants were able to explore principles, definitions, planning, developing and implementing Civic Education programs in their personal and regional work areas.
As always in Bhutan, a great deal was learnt and a great deal of enjoyment was had. The participants were extremely well selected and their work was of the highest quality. They all left the workshops feeling like they were much better equipped to conduct Civic and Voter Education programs for Bhutan and that they had built useful and productive networks with their colleagues.
The workshops were conducted by Kinley from the ECB and Cate Thompson and Ross Attrill from the AEC. They were ably assisted by 5 Semi-accredited Bhutanese facilitators, Sonam Tobgyal, Sherab Zangpo, Gem Tshewang and Tenzin Namgyel from the ECB and Jigme Wangmo from the Goshi Gewog Office. They performed brilliantly as a team and it was with great pride that we were able to provide them all with their Workshop Facilitator accreditation at the end of the second week.
The workshops concluded with everyone being excited about the potential for Civic Education programs to blossom and grow in Bhutan. For me, this is the most satisfying way to use BRIDGE. Providing a platform for discovery then as the stimulus for the development of real implementation plans is exactly how I’ve always envisaged BRIDGE should be used. The ECB is to be commended for having the vision to use BRIDGE in this way and for bringing together participants from key stakeholder groups who can support each other in their endeavours.
I look forward to seeing what programs are delivered in Bhutan over the coming months.