ISSN 2330-717X

Bhutan: Local Council Elections And Update On Refugees

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By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

Bhutan took another major step in institutionalising democracy by starting the local council elections.

There were many problems and delays in the run up to the elections. Firstly, there was the delay in demarcation of the boundaries to form 1042 Chiwogs ( village level constituencies) and higher grouping of Gewogs and four municipal levels.

Secondly, there was a running dispute between the Elections Commission and the government over the Local Council Act. According to the Election Commission the Act had many provisions that were inconsistent with the provisions in the Constitution.

After many to and fro exchanges and clarifications, elections to the municipalities of Thimpu, Pheuntsoling, Gelephu and Samdrup Jonkhar were held on 21st of January. This included election of Mayors (Thrompons)also to the four towns.

Elections were incident free though there were complaints in some booths over election irregularities.

Bhutan
Bhutan

In Thimpu out of a total of 100,000 only 6000 were found eligible and allowed to vote. Voting rights were denied to persons who have been living for decades in Thimpu on the ground that they belong to consistencies ( thrombes) elsewhere and therefore not eligible to vote in Thimpu. Similar was the case at Phuentsoling. Only 600 out of a population of 30,000 were eligible to vote for the elections.

Thimpu being the capital, it is natural that people for various parts of the country far and near would come, reside and work at the capital and these people do not get voting rights for the local council elections. This is an anomaly that needs to be rectified. There is thus a need to amend the electoral laws as otherwise the elections will be a farce.

A second anomaly that needs to be reviewed is the minimum qualification prescribed for the candidates since in some instances there were no candidates to contest!

In all the four towns, officials said that female voters outnumbered men. At Thimphu, a former General Manager of Bhutan Power Corporation Kinley Dorji was elected by winning 1335 votes out of a total of 2994. In Phuentsoling, Tsehten Dorji a businessman was elected with 182 out of 447 votes cast. Samdrup Jonkhar voted Karma Sherub as Mayor while Gelephu voted Namgyal.

Refugee Position:

As of middle January 2011, a total of 41,114 refugees have been resettled in 8 countries thus leaving 71,455 still in the camps. With the present flow, it is estimated that only 12 to 15 Thousand refugees will be left in the camps by 2013, the cut off year declared earlier for the resettlement of refugees in the third countries by the UNHCR and the Govt. of Nepal.

The country wide resettlement Details are as follows.

Australia 2187

Canada 2404

Denmark 326

UK 111

Netherlands 229

Norway 373

New Zealand 505

USA 34979

Total 42114.

The current population in the camps is

Beldangi I 12793

Beldangi II 14680

Beldangi II Extn 8470

Golhap 4627

Khudanabari 10688

Sanischare 13323

Timai 6874

Total 71455.

With the shrinking population in the camps, the UNHCR is planning to merge the camps and the first step will be to merge Golhap with the Beldangi Camp.

There are still around 3500 non registered refugees falling under the categories of new arrivals, those left out in the census of 2008 and cross marriages.

Khudanabari camp was the only camp that was fully verified into four categories by the joint verification teams of Bhutan and Nepal. Bhutan has not taken a single refugee back from this camp though there are hundreds admitted by them to be Bhutanese citizens under category 1.

It is learnt that there are still 80,000 Bhutanese of Nepalese origin in southern Bhutan coming under the categories of F1 to F7 under the Bhutanese Citizenship Law and their fate still hangs in the balance. There is a justified fear among them that it will be their turn to be evicted in due course from southern Bhutan.

Of those in USA, there are positive signs that the refugees are settling down after the initial hiccups. Another welcome sign is that the Indian community at various places in USA is helping the Bhutanese refugees to settle down. There was an instance of the Indian community gifting a car to the refugee family to take the children to school in the absence of buses nearby.

It is an irony that Indians abroad are helping while back home India turned its back on the refugees!

The internet and blogs are full of stories of the local communities helping the refugees at various places. A kind of networking of all Bhutanese in various countries has begun. Surprising that they feel they are Bhutanese first and not Nepalese! A networked NRB community in due course is inevitable.

What would happen to those who would be left out in the camps after the resettlement? While the UNHCR has promised to provide necessary reliefs, it cannot continue indefinitely. It is this group that is likely to be radicalised in due course, as Bhutan as we have seen from the trends is unlikely to take even a single citizen back from the camps.

SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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