Heavy polling expected as Bhutan ready for historic vote

March 23rd, 2008 - 11:49 am ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Samdrup Jongkhar (Bhutan), March 23 (IANS) Bhutan, the idyllic yet reclusive Himalayan nation, is all set for the big day when a historic vote begins Monday, formally marking the end of its 100-year-old monarchy and ushering in parliamentary democracy. “We’re happy that the entire population is in the mood to come out and cast their votes, which is evident from the passenger traffic throughout the country,” said Bhutan’s Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.

For the 318,465 registered voters eligible to exercise their franchise for the 47-member National Assembly or lower house in parliament, it is a simple decision as there are just two political parties contesting the polls - the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).

“We expect around 70 percent polling going by our experience in the National Council elections in December,” Wangdi said.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made with adequate police and army soldiers deployed in all the 865 polling stations spread across the 20 Bhutanese districts.

The largely Buddhist kingdom of about 600,000 people where female electorates outnumber male voters by about 3,873, the presence of a large number of professionals in the contest for political supremacy have added colour to the otherwise low key electioneering.

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.

About 42 international observers from India, the European Union, Japan, Canada, the US, Denmark, Australia, the Netherlands and officials of the UNDP office will be observing and assessing the electoral process.

The Media Authority (BICMA) has also accredited about 79 international journalists from 43 media agencies in the world to cover the elections.

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 5 p.m. Counting of votes would begin soon after polling ends and results are expected by Tuesday morning.

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

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 elections 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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