National Referendum Act of the Kingdom, 2008

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Table of Contents

Preamble ..................................................................................... 1

CHAPTER 1 ............................................................................... 2

Preliminary .................................................................................. 2 

Title, Commencement, Application and Extent .......................... 2

Definition .................................................................................... 2

CHAPTER 2 ............................................................................... 5

Purpose, Initiation and Conduct of National Referendum .......... 5

Purpose ........................................................................................ 5

Initiation of a National Referendum ........................................... 5

Authority to Conduct National Referendum ............................... 5

CHAPTER 3 ............................................................................... 7

Procedure .................................................................................... 7

Submission of Motion ............................................................. 7

Legality of National Referendum ............................................... 8

Verification of Petition ............................................................... 8

Submittal Requirements .............................................................. 9

Proclamation ............................................................................. 10

Notification ............................................................................... 10

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CHAPTER 4 ............................................................................. 11

Period for Holding a National Referendum .............................. 11

Postal Ballot Arrangement for Polling and Counting ............... 11

Ballot Paper ............................................................................... 11

Conduct of Poll ......................................................................... 12

Counting of Votes ..................................................................... 13

Results ....................................................................................... 14

CHAPTER 5 ............................................................................. 15

National Referendum Campaign............................................... 15

Permissible Broadcast ............................................................... 15

Dissemination of Information ................................................... 15

National Referendum Expenses ................................................ 17

Limits on National Referendum Expenses ............................... 18

Filing of Returns ....................................................................... 18

CHAPTER 6 ............................................................................. 19

General Provision...................................................................... 19

Results of National Referendum ............................................... 19

Exclusion................................................................................... 19

Temporary Embargo on National Referendum ......................... 20

iii

Application of the Election Act ................................................ 20

Penalties .................................................................................... 21

Inherent Powers ........................................................................ 21

Amendment ............................................................................... 21

Authoritative Text ..................................................................... 22 

1

NATIONAL REFERENDUM ACT OF THE KINGDOM
OF BHUTAN, 2008

PREAMBLE

WHEREAS, pursuant to Article 34 of the Constitution of the
Kingdom of Bhutan 2008, that the general will of the people
shall also be expressed through National Referendums held in a
free and fair manner;

Parliament of the Kingdom of Bhutan during its 1st Session do
hereby enact the National Referendum Act of the Kingdom of
Bhutan on this 26th Day of the Second 5th Month of the Earth
Male Rat Year corresponding to the 28th Day of the 7th Month of
the Year 2008.

2

CHAPTER 1

PRELIMINARY

Title, Commencement, Application and Extent

1. This Act shall:

(a) Be called the National Referendum Act of the
Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008;

(b) Come into force on the 11th Day of 6th Month of the
Earth Male Rat Year corresponding to 12th Day of 8th
Month of 2008;

(c) Apply to all National Referendums held in the
Kingdom of Bhutan; and

(d) Extend to the whole of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Definition

2. In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires:

(a) “Constitution” means the Constitution of the
Kingdom of Bhutan;

(b) “Election Commission” means the Election
Commission of Bhutan;

(c) “Election Act” means the Election Act of the
Kingdom of Bhutan 2008;

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(d) “Media” means the mass media including print and
electronic media and such other forms as may be
prescribed by the Election Commission from time to
time;

(e) “Motion for National Referendum” means a National
Referendum:

(i) Commanded by the Druk Gyalpo under section
4(a) of this Act;

(ii) A written petition by members of Dzongkhag
Tshogdues as provided under section 4(b) of
this Act; or

(iii) Initiated by Parliament under section 4(c) of
this Act.

(f) “Permitted Participant” means a registered political
party or voter as defined under the Election Act of
the Kingdom of Bhutan who submits, in the
prescribed form a Letter of Intent to the Election
Commission, to conduct campaign for or against a
National Referendum on a date not later than the
seventh day after the date of issue of notification
under section 26 of this Act;

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(g) “Polling Booth” means an enclosure made for voters
at the polling station to enable them to cast their vote
in secrecy at the National Referendum;

(h) “Publish” means make available to the public at
large;

(i) “National Referendum” means referring a proposed
law, issue of national significance or amendments of
the Constitution to all the registered voters by way of
voting for endorsement or rejection, subject to the
provision of the Constitution;

(j) “National Referendum Period” means the period
commencing from the day of the issue of Royal
Proclamation under section 25 of this Act and ending
on the day of the poll;

(k) “National Referendum Constituency” means a
Dzongkhag;

(l) “Returning Officer” means an official designated by
the Election Commission as per the Election Act;

(m) Words importing the singular number shall include
the plural number and vice versa, unless the context
otherwise requires.

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CHAPTER 2

PURPOSE, INITIATION AND CONDUCT OF
NATIONAL REFERENDUM

Purpose

3. A National Referendum shall be organized to provide an
opportunity for the people of Bhutan to have their say on
proposed laws, issue of national significance or
amendment to the Constitution.

Initiation of a National Referendum

4. A National Referendum may be initiated:

(a) On the Command of His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo if
He deems a Bill is of national importance but has not
been passed in a joint sitting of Parliament;

(b) If a petition on issue of national significance is made
by not less than 50% of the total number of members
of all Dzongkhag Tshogdues; or

(c) By Parliament, in accordance with the provisions of
the Constitution.

Authority to Conduct National Referendum

5. The Election Commission shall hold a National
Referendum as provided under this Act and the Election
Act.

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6. The Election Commission shall have the following
principal functions in relation to National Referendum:

(a) Promote public awareness of the National
Referendum by publishing and distributing general
explanation on the precise issue with a suitable title
of the matter on which the National Referendum is
being solicited, in such manner and by such means as
the Commission considers most likely to bring them
to the attention of the voters; and

(b) Encourage the voters to vote at the poll.

7. The Electoral Roll shall be reviewed and updated for the
purpose of National Referendum by the Dzongkhag
Registration Officers under the general supervision of
Dzongkhag Electoral Officers, upon receiving directives
from the Election Commission.

8. The Final Electoral Roll of the Dzongkhag shall be
displayed at the notice board of the Dzongkhag
Registration Officer as well as at a prominent public place
for public reference in accordance with the provisions of
the Election Act.

9. The Election Commission shall not be involved in the
campaigns for or against the proposed National
Referendum.

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CHAPTER 3

PROCEDURE

Submission of Motion

10. The authority initiating National Referendum under
section 4 of this Act shall forward the motion calling for
National Referendum to the Election Commission.

11. The respective Chairpersons of the Dzongkhag Tshogdues
shall, in the case of section 4(b) of this Act, communicate
with each other within 10 days upon emanation of an issue
of national significance that needs to be petitioned for a
National Referendum as per Article 34, section 2(b) of the
Constitution.

12. The Chairpersons of the Dzongkhag Tshogdues shall
forward the motion calling for a National Referendum to
Parliament.

13. The petition for a National Referendum shall be in the
form of a motion stating the full name, citizenship identity
card number and address of each of the members of the
Dzongkhag Tshogdu who signs it.

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14. Parliament on receipt of the motion under section 12 and
on compliance of the condition laid down under section 4
of this Act forward the same to the Election Commission
accompanied by the following:

(a) General explanation on the precise issue with a
suitable title of the matter on which the National
Referendum is being solicited;

(b) Text thereof in the relevant Bill, if any;

(c) Copy of the motion calling for the National
Referendum; and

(d) Any other information relevant to those matters.

15. Parliament shall simultaneously submit the motion for
holding of a National Referendum to the Druk Gyalpo.

Legality of National Referendum

16. The motion for a National Referendum shall be subject to
review by the Supreme Court as to its legality.

17. A National Referendum shall not take place if the decision
of the Supreme Court, under section 16 of this Act, finds
that the motion is not in accordance with the Constitution
of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Verification of Petition

18. The signatures on the petition shall be verified by
Parliament by tallying with the specimen signatures of the
members.

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19. If any duplicate signature is detected in the petition, such
shall be counted as invalid.

Submittal Requirements

20. Parliament shall submit the motion for a National
Referendum to the Election Commission stating the:

(a) Precise issue with a suitable title of the matter on
which the National Referendum is being solicited;
and

(b) Provisions of the law that confers the right to seek a
National Referendum.

Provided in the case of proposed amendment to the
Constitution the original text of the Constitution that is
to be altered or repealed must be submitted.

21. The Election Commission shall consider the wording of
the precise issue and the title, and forward any views of
the Commission as to its intelligibility to Parliament:

(a) As soon as reasonably practicable after receipt of the
motion; and

(b) In such manner as it may determine.

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22. Parliament shall on receipt of views under section 21 of
this Act take appropriate measures to correct the wording
of the precise issue and the title as soon as reasonably
practicable and intimate the Election Commission
accordingly.

23. The National Referendum issue or issues shall be framed
in the manner which best elicits a clear “Yes” or “No”
response.

24. A motion for a National Referendum once made cannot be
withdrawn.

Proclamation

25. The Election Commission shall submit the motion of
National Referendum received vide section 20 of this Act
to the Druk Gyalpo Who shall issue a Proclamation.

Notification

26. Upon Proclamation by the Druk Gyalpo, the Election
Commission shall issue notification, setting out the
schedule, for holding of a National Referendum.

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CHAPTER 4

PERIOD FOR HOLDING A NATIONAL REFERENDUM

27. The Election Commission shall hold a National
Referendum within a period of ninety days from the date
of the receipt of the motion for a National Referendum.

28. The poll for National Referendum shall generally be held
in a single day and the Election Commission will
determine the hours during which the poll is to be taken.

29. The Election Commission shall determine the polling
stations in each Dzongkhag not less than 30 days before
the date of poll.

Postal Ballot Arrangement for Polling and Counting

30. Arrangement for voting at polling stations and by post,
counting and declaration of results shall be made in the
manner prescribed in the Election Act and the Postal
Ballot Rules and Regulations of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Ballot Paper

31. In case ballot boxes are used, ballot papers shall include,
next to the issue, two little squares printed, with “Yes” on
one and “No” on the other.

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32. Every Ballot Paper shall bear an imprint of the stamp of
the Election Commission.

Conduct of Poll

33. The provisions of the Election Act shall regulate the
manner of assignment of the polling stations,
commencement of poll, closure of poll and other such
activities.

34. An eligible voter shall vote in accordance with the
Election Act.

35. Voting at a National Referendum shall be in the same
manner as for Parliamentary and Local Government
elections except that voters vote by marking or stamping
either “Yes” or “No” against the issue on the ballot paper.

36. If Electronic Voting Machines are used the voters shall
press the “Yes” button for an affirmative vote and “No”
button to reject the issue being referred.

37. The Counting Supervisor shall, before rejecting any ballot
paper as invalid, allow the observers present, a reasonable
opportunity to inspect the ballot paper but without
allowing them to handle it or any other ballot paper.

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38. The Counting Supervisor shall, in case ballot boxes are
used, reject as invalid a ballot paper, if:

(a) It is blank;

(b) It is not duly authenticated by the Presiding Officer;

(c) Preference cannot be definitely determined;

(d) It is not handed out at the polling station;

(e) It is not deposited inside the valid ballot box;

(f) It bears a mark of identification different from the
one officially provided;

(g) It has been tampered with or is so damaged or
mutilated that its identity as a genuine ballot paper
cannot be established; or

(h) It has been marked with an instrument not officially
provided at the polling station.

39. All political parties shall comply with standards and
restrictions during National Referendums, laid down in the
Election Act.

Counting of Votes

40. The counting procedure shall be regulated as per the
provisions of the Election Act.

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41. The Counting shall be carried out by Counting
Supervisors, under the superintendence of the Returning
Officer at a designated place approved by the Election
Commission.

Results

42. The Election Commission shall declare the over-all results
after tallying the result sheets forwarded by the Returning
Officers of each of the constituencies.

43. The results sheet under section 42 of this Act shall include
the:

a) Total number of votes cast;

b) Number of valid votes;

c) Number of invalid ballots; and

d) Number of “Yes” and “No” votes for the referred
issue.

44. The matter referred for the National Referendum shall be
considered as approved if endorsed with affirmative vote
by a simple majority of the total number of valid votes cast
in all the Dzongkhags in the Kingdom.

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CHAPTER 5

NATIONAL REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN

Permissible Broadcast

45. National Referendum campaign shall be any publication or
broadcast whose purpose is or may reasonably be assumed
to be:

(a) To further any campaign conducted with a view to
promote or procure a particular outcome in relation
to any question asked in a National Referendum; or

(b) Otherwise to promote or procure any such outcome.

Dissemination of Information

46. Permitted participants may carry out National Referendum
campaign from the date of issue of notification by the
Election Commission under section 26 of this Act and end
48 hours before the day of the poll.

47. Permitted participants intending to publish or broadcast
any National Referendum campaign materials shall submit
such campaign material first to the Election Commission
for endorsement.

48. The media shall devote broadcast time as specified in the
Media Coverage of Elections Rules and Regulations of the
Kingdom of Bhutan.

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49. The media shall not include in its broadcasting services
any National Referendum campaign broadcast or
advertisement made on behalf of any person or body other
than by permitted participants.

50. The media shall not, not-withstanding section 49 of this
Act, include in its services any National Referendum
campaign material furnished on behalf of any person or
body other than those endorsed by the Election
Commission.

51. The media and permitted participants shall refrain from
disseminating any form of persuasion to vote in a certain
way in the media 48 hours before the poll and during the
poll.

52. The Election Commission shall not provide any
information on the partial results of the voting before the
declaration of results.

53. No person shall, during the time of voting and before the
declaration of results, publicize the voting trend.

54. Any person found guilty of violation of section 53 of this
Act shall be guilty of an offence punishable under the
Election Act.

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National Referendum Expenses

55. National Referendum expenses shall be expenses incurred
by or on behalf of any permitted participants as per
sections 56 and 57 of this Act for the purposes of
conducting a National Referendum campaign.

56. National Referendum expenses in respect of broadcasts
shall include:

(a) Design costs and other costs in connection with
preparing or producing broadcasting materials; and

(b) Advertising costs.

57. National Referendum expenses in respect of advertising
shall include:

(a) Design costs and other costs in connection with
preparing, producing, distributing advertising
materials or otherwise disseminating such materials:

(b) Anything incorporating such advertising and
intended to be distributed for the purpose of
disseminating it; or

(c) The provision of any services or facilities in
connection with press conferences or other dealings
with the media.

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Limits on National Referendum Expenses

58. Each permitted participant shall not incur National
Referendum expenses exceeding an amount that may be
determined from time to time by the Election Commission.

Filing of Returns

59. Every permitted participant shall file a return in respect of
the National Referendum expenses incurred by him/her or
on his/her behalf during National Referendum period
within 30 days of the completion of the poll.

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CHAPTER 6

GENERAL PROVISION

Results of National Referendum

60. The results of a National Referendum shall be binding on
all organs of the government, public and private entities.

61. The decision of a National Referendum must be
implemented on being approved in the National
Referendum.

62. The government must, as soon as practicable, take steps,
within its competence to implement the results of the
National Referendum including the following:

(a) Changing laws or policies, or introducing new
policies, that are administered by or through the
executive government; and

(b) Introducing legislation in Parliament during its first
session after the results of such a National
Referendum are known.

Exclusion

63. A National Referendum shall not be held on the question
of:

(a) Imposition, variation or repeal of taxes;

(b) Declaration of a state of war;

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(c) Proclamation or termination of emergency;

(d) Use of the Armed Forces abroad or within the
country;

(e) Amnesties or pardons;

(f) Compulsory militia service;

(g) Dissolution of Parliament or Local Government;

(h) Bills introduced for the purpose of discharging
existing treaty obligations;

(i) Independence of the courts and their decisions; or

(j) Any matter that could undermine the effectiveness of
the constitutional posts.

Temporary Embargo on National Referendum

64. The convening and holding of a National Referendum
shall be prohibited between the date of announcement and
the completion of the elections to Parliament, or during an
emergency and until thirty days following its cessation.

Application of the Election Act

65. All relevant provisions of the Election Act shall apply to
National Referendum as they apply to elections to
Parliament.

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Penalties

66. Any person or organization found guilty of violation of
any provision of this Act shall be dealt with in accordance
to the Election Act.

Inherent Powers

67. The Supreme Court shall have the power to award
reasonable penalty where a particular offence is not
covered or is only partially covered by this or any bylaw
made under this Act, and is not otherwise excluded from
adjudication.

Amendment

68. The amendment of this Act by way of addition, variation
or repeal shall be effected only by a simple majority of the
respective Houses or a vote of no less than two-third of the
total members of Parliament present and voting on a
motion submitted by one-third of the members of either
House, provided that the amendment does not undermine
the functions and effectiveness of the Election
Commission.

69. Parliament shall have the moral responsibility to ensure
that an amendment does not in any way undermine the
authority and effectiveness of the Election Commission in
the conduct of free and fair National Referendums.

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Authoritative Text

70. The Dzongkha text shall be the authoritative text, if there
exists any difference in meaning between the Dzongkha
and the English text.

***

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