Bhutan all set for Monday’s historic vote

March 22nd, 2008 - 1:50 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Sarpang (Bhutan), March 22 (IANS) Hundreds of officials have set out for remote and inaccessible areas in Bhutan with poll material on mules and horseback to conduct the Himalayan kingdom’s historic parliamentary vote Monday. “There are several areas that require trekking. We have used mules and horses to carry electronic voting machines and other poll material,” a Bhutanese election commission official said.

Preparations are almost complete with poll officials and security personnel deployed in strength across the 20 Bhutanese districts for Monday’s vote for the 47-member National Assembly or the lower house in parliament as the largely Buddhist nation shifts from monarchy to democracy.

“We are ready for the elections and hope to conduct the vote in a free, fair, and peaceful manner,” Bhutan’s chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, said.

Some 318,465 registered voters are eligible to cast their ballots in the Himalayan kingdom of about 600,000 people with the female electorate outnumbering male voters by about 3,873.

The Gelephu constituency under Sarpang district in southern Bhutan has the highest number of registered voters with 11,803, while the Goen Khatoe Laya constituency under Gasa district has the lowest with just 768 voters.

The district of Trashigang has the highest number of constituencies, with five seats in the National Assembly, followed by Samtse with four seats, Mongar and Pema Gatshel with three seats each. The remaining 16 districts will have two seats each.

Tashi Dorji, who turned 18 last December, is excited. “I and some of my schoolmates are going to cast our votes early in the morning. We are excited as we would be creating history on Monday by voting in the country’s first parliamentary elections,” Dorji said.

A national holiday has been declared in this Shangri-la of jaw-dropping beauty for the vote. Voting begins at 8 a.m. (GMT +0600 hrs) and ends at 4 p.m.

Monks clad in maroon robes and tonsured heads offered prayers at a monastery in Sarpang by lighting butter lamps as Bhutan marched towards democracy. “To be frank we want the monarchy to continue. But with the king deciding to usher in democracy there is no option and so we are praying that this new system works well in Bhutan,” an elderly monk who identified himself as Tshering said.

Members of the royal family and those directly associated with religious institutions are not allowed to vote.

Observers from India, US and Australia, besides UN officials, are monitoring the polls.

There are just two political parties contesting the elections - the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).

The PDP’s main election slogan has been to work for the “well-being of everyone”, while the DPT is harping on the theme of “growth with equity and justice”.

The election is the culmination of a plan by former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck - who handed his crown to his young Oxford-educated son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in December 2006 - to change with the times and relinquish absolute rule.

Jigme Khesar has since assumed charge as Bhutan’s new king.

The former king had set the process in 2001 for Bhutan’s transformation from an absolute monarch to a parliamentary democracy that led to the country having a new constitution.

The king would become head of state after the National Assembly polls next year, but parliament would have the power to impeach him by a two-thirds vote.

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