Opposition seeks probe after Bhutan’s historic poll

March 31st, 2008 - 11:33 am ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Thimphu, March 31 (IANS) The first visible signs of protest and anguish over Bhutan’s transition from monarchy to democracy has been made public with the embattled People’s Democratic Party (PDP) hinting that last week’s historic parliamentary elections was not fair. The PDP that won just three of the 47 seats in the National Assembly or lower house in parliament during the March 24 elections have sought a probe by the country’s Election Commission to find the reasons for the one-sided verdict.

“If no unfair means were deployed, then we’ll be happy to respect the will of the people of Bhutan with grace, dignity and humility. We will leave it to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) to determine that,” PDP president Sangay Ngedup said.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) won a landslide victory winning 44 seats in the elections - the results surprising even leaders of the winning party. As a mark of protest, two of the PDP lawmakers who won the polls resigned even before taking oath in parliament, saying the “elections might not have been free and fair”, Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel said.

The PDP said things took a dramatic turn two days before the March 24 polls and hordes of people in buses and trucks arrived in various constituencies from capital Thimphu. It termed the development “strange”.

“All the candidates were shocked with disbelief at the results,” the PDP president said.

Ngedup accused the ruling DPT of “harassing and bullying” PDP supporters.

“We’re saddened by this news. We are appealing that this is not the way Bhutan should go about following the democratic process,” the PDP president said. “We are appealing to ECB to ensure that our supporters are protected from such harassment.”

The largely Buddhist kingdom of about 650,000 people marched towards democracy after former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s sudden decision in late 2006 to abdicate the throne in favour of his eldest son, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, and announce parliamentary elections.

The growing cynicism about the historic shift from near absolute monarchy is due to the image problem democracy has in Bhutan’s neighbourhood - Bangladesh and Nepal suffer from political instability, while elections in India are often marred by violence.

“When we look around our neighbouring countries and study their elections, we find the system sickening - elected representatives have criminal records and the polls are generally controlled by money and muscle power,” said Tashi Wangmo, a middle-aged entrepreneur in Thimphu.

“And today the PDP has levelled similar accusations of arm-twisting tactics by the DPT during the polls. This is very bad if it really happened,” he added.

Corruption is another issue worrying the masses as the Himalayan kingdom becomes the world’s newest democracy after last week’s historic vote.

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