Gangtok: Controversy engulfs the first-ever non-partisan municipal election, as voters and candidates from Bojhoghari-2nd Mile Ward in Gangtok Municipal Council claim postal votes reached only on counting day. The ballot votes posted from Raj Bhawan in Gangtok took two days to reach District Administration also in Gangtok. There were 35 postal ballot votes in total, out of which 22 postal ballot votes were considered valid, and were all in favour of the winning candidate Paljor Bhutia.
There were a total of 710 votes cast on election day on March 31. The crucial part of this particular ward was that the winning candidate Paljor Bhutia won by a whisker of one vote against Bhaichung Tshering Bhutia.
Bhaichung claims, “I won by 31 votes in EVM, but we have lost by one vote in the postal ballot. Our postal ballots reached only 30 minutes before the counting of votes. The ballot papers only have the signature of the DC and there is no stamp. What is the power of the stamp when you believe only in the power of the signature? Any person can impersonate a signature. He is the only one holding the power of that stamp. He told us that just the signature would suffice. Even the post office sent with a stamp, the DC claims even without his stamp it is valid. While ours only one is valid. It does feel suspicious when the DC claims that it was a clerical mistake.”
Bhaichung Tshering Bhutia further stated, “We also found out that the winning candidate Paljor Bhutia of having brought an invalid voter, which even made the rounds in social media that he was from Namchi. When we brought this to the knowledge of the Returning officer, he said even that would be counted. To rectify his mistake, the returning officer went on to claim that he will add one more vote making it 711 instead of the actual count of 710 voters from the ward. It’s an extra vote which no one has even cast, so why take that into account now to rectify his mistake. When a person from Namchi comes and cast his vote, it should be considered invalid and counted as 709 votes. But he claims that 710 votes have been cast in the EVM and the same will be counted.”
“The returning officer claimed the same to be as per law. The invalid voter was even handed over to the presiding officer. We asked that this vote should not be counted. The Returning officer claimed it can be counted as the vote has already been cast in the EVM. We cannot ignore that vote, he claimed. There were 710 votes in the Bojoghari-2nd mile ward including the false vote, the DC claimed he will add one extra vote, but how can we add one extra vote? If we cut out one invalid vote, it should come down to 709,” he further added.
Candidate Ongden Bhutia questioned how they can claim it to be a clerical mistake. “The returning officer cannot claim it to be a clerical mistake and take it so simply. When the results were declared in the morning and the clerical mistake comes in the afternoon. When the District Magistrate can make such a mistake, a simple answer cannot be given. The DC must come out with a detailed clarification. They cannot clarify the tendered vote, so we demand re-election. The district administration didn’t listen to us and they tried to win with their argument.”
Phu Tshering Bhutia, elder brother to candidate Bhaichung Tshering, claimed, “We are upset with the system as it is evident the election is becoming one-sided. Sectoral Magistrate Robin Sewa had seen the winning candidate roaming around with a bagful of money. They made a drama out of a raid, where it appeared that Area MLA along with party cadres was seen canvassing for the winning candidate. We know we will not get justice. When ballot paper gets tampered with, how would it be possible to get justice? The system is one-sided. It is evident that party cadres to the Department are working to make him the winner, how can this election be party less. This is not independent.”
Another voter requesting anonymity claimed, “In the ballot, their 22 votes were valid, while our was only one valid. Even a layman can figure out this is a manipulation. A one-sided election, where the one distributing money was caught, the ones who made invalid vote was put to caught by police, now the same candidate wins. He gets all 22 valid (postal) ballot vote, while our only one vote is considered valid. We lost by one vote.”