Elections 2013: No Religious Influence


No praying

Annual rituals, including yearly lochoe, coinciding with the election campaign period next year, will have to be stopped or moved to a different date.

Explaining that there is “nothing draconian” about the recent notification the Election Commission issued, officials said it was a preventive measure to ensure and avoid “mixing religion and politics” as required by law.

The notification issued early last week stated individuals and organisations should refrain from religious events and activities “involving public presence” during election period, starting January 1 next year.

“It will have to be stopped because, for general cause, one has to sacrifice household activity,” Election Commissioner Chogyel Dago Rigdzin said.

“These are totally specific to that community so for the nation, as individuals, we have to go by the regulations. It’s for the cause of democracy,” he said. He said it was also a preventive measure to stop the electoral disputes from arising.

“That way, electorates are also protected from getting into trouble, in case an electoral dispute arises at the event,” the Commissioner said.

The move was also in line with the discussion held during one of the religious conferences this year to issue the notice in advance, so that religious personalities and organisations could reschedule their activities.

“This is for the convenience of public and religious organization, by giving them the time frame so that they can plan accordingly,” he said.

Meanwhile, the notification, among others, invited criticism from individuals, who feared a need for religious activities, including funeral rites, could arise within the period, and whether the commission meant refraining from that as well.

“We aren’t so draconian not to allow funeral rites and rituals,” the commissioner said. “How can any notifications stop this?”

He said, during funerals, there would be no “public congregation” as such, no festivities, no speeches.

“There are distinctions,” he said, adding there can also be provisions of recourse, where people can ask clarifications under unusual circumstances, where interpretations are required.

“Anybody can ask us, there can be interpretation and process of approvals,” he said.

He, however, stressed that the basic intention of the whole thing was to fulfill the constitutional provision of keeping religion separate from politics.

Besides, he said, the recommendation to limit religious activities during election period came from participants of electoral workshops in the past.

The Commissioner explained that the idea was not new. It has been tried and implemented in past elections, including that of National Council in 2007, and Assembly’s general election in 2008.

On asking how the Commission would ensure people actually practised the regulation, the Commissioner said there cannot be foolproof monitoring mechanism.

“It isn’t so mathematical,” he said. “There will be grey areas and there will be complications. But we have to deal with it.”

This story from KUENSEL

KUENSEL is Bhutan's national newspaper. Founded in 1967, KUENSEL is Bhutan's oldest newspaper.