Royalists sweep Bhutan polls, king’s uncle’s party suffers defeat

March 25th, 2008 - 12:19 am ICT by admin  

(Intro Night Lead)
By Syed Zarir Hussain
Thimphu, March 24 (IANS) A royalist party in Bhutan, close to the country’s educated elite who dominate politics and bureaucracy, has swept Monday’s first parliamentary elections in the isolated Himalayan kingdom. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) led by former prime minister Jigme Thinley won 44 of the total 47 seats in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament for which elections were held.

An estimated 79.4 percent of the 318,465 registered voters exercised their franchise in the elections that marked the end of the 100-year-old monarchy and ushered in democracy in the largest Buddhist nation of more than 650,000 people.

“The victory by such a huge margin was almost unexpected. The people of Bhutan want peace and stability and that is the reason they gave us an emphatic victory,” Palden Tshering, a senior DPT leader, said.

Thinley, a known royalist, is tipped to be the new prime minister of Bhutan.

Surprisingly, Sangay Ngedup, two-time former prime minister, lost the elections. Ngedup is the present king’s uncle - the brother of the four sisters who are married to former king Jigme Singye Wangchuk.

Thinley is a staunch supporter of the royalty and was instrumental in popularising the former king’s concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ rather than the gross domestic product (GDP) to gauge the country’s achievements.

Earlier Monday, men in colourful ‘ghos’, full-sleeved robes tied at the waist, and women dressed in ‘kiras’, sarong-like wraps, lined up at polling stations much before voting opened.

“I have literally created history as I was among those who cast votes in the first few minutes after voting opened,” Tenzin Wangdi, a young college student, told IANS.

Monks clad in maroon-robes and tonsured heads offered prayers at a local monastery by lighting butter lamps as Bhutan marched towards democracy.

“We really don’t know what is there in store for our country. We hope everything goes fine under the new system,” said an elderly monk who identified himself as Tshering.

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

The polls were monitored by 42 observers from India, the European Union, Japan, Canada, the US, Denmark, Australia, the Netherlands and officials of the UNDP.

“Some 5,184 polling officials engaged to conduct the elections,” the chief election commissioner said.

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 monarchy to a parliamentary democracy that led to the country having a new constitution.

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