Exiles ask Bhutan king to defer Monday polls

March 22nd, 2008 - 10:06 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 22 (IANS) As the secluded Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan gears up to hold its first general election Monday, Bhutanese exiles in Nepal, who form nearly a sixth of the population and are barred from voting or contesting, are urging the king of Bhutan to dissolve the government and defer the polls. A coalition of three Bhutanese parties in exile are urging the king of Bhutan, Jigme Kesar Namgyal, to allow over 100,000 Bhutanese, who are living as refugees in Nepal, to return home, and to enable over 80,000 citizens residing in the tiny, mountain-locked country to be given security clearance, so that they can cast their vote.

The National Front for Democracy in Bhutan, that has sent the appeal from exile in Nepal, is also urging the European Union, UN and major donor governments to heed their plea.

The alliance comprises three parties formed in exile, most of whose members have been living in closed refugee camps in Nepal for 17 years - the Bhutan People’s Party, Druk National Congress (Democratic) and Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front.

Thousands of Bhutanese, mostly of Nepali origin, were evicted from their homeland in the 1990s when Bhutan began imposing a policy of one language, religion and culture.

Though Nepal’s government held several rounds of talks with Bhutan to try persuade it to take back the over 100,000 refugees living in UN-administered camps in south Nepal, the Druk kingdom has steadfastly refused to do so.

As donors began to grow weary of funding the camps, the US and other western governments stepped in, offering a new home to the refugees on their soil.

The first batch of refugees headed for the US this year, amidst protests by a section of their peers, who say the exodus from the camps to third countries would embolden Bhutan to evict more citizens of ethnic origin.

“(The) denial of repatriation of over one hundred thousand Bhutanese citizens in exile and deprivation of adult franchise to over 80,000 adult citizens within the country shows that the current situation is not favourable for establishing sustainable democracy,” the statement by the three parties said.

The trio is also asking the government to release the large number of political prisoners, who, it says, are being held without a fair trial.

“We do not believe in the democracy of Bhutan without including the people who demanded democracy in 1990 through peaceful demonstrations and while many pro-democracy activists continue to languish both in exile and in Bhutan’s prisons,” it said.

The exiles are asking the king to dissolve the current government and defer the election.

They want an interim government that will free political prisoners and allow all parties to contest the election, which should be held at a later date.

They are also asking the king to allow the refugees to return home and reclaim their home and properties.

The appeal is likely to be ignored by the Druk government that has openly refused to allow the repatriation of evicted citizens, dubbing them as having been influenced by Nepal’s armed Maoist movement that sought to overthrow the kingdom’s Shah dynasty of kings.

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