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Bhutan Votes in First-Ever National Election

March 25, 2008 11:45 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Bhutanese people reluctantly participated in their first democratic election, the latest development in the Himalayan kingdom’s slow path to modernization.

30-Second Summary

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“They have given the government to the public now,” one anonymous voter told Reuters

Both the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party, headed by former Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), headed by the king’s uncle Sangay Ngedup, are devoutly royalist and insist that the democratic elections were the idea of the king.

However, the presence of the king's uncle in the PDP did not stop it losing 44 of the 47 parliamentary seats up for grabs, including Ngedup’s.

Bhutan-based paper Kuensel Online said of the country’s readiness to vote, “Most of us lack a basic understanding of national issues and … we have no ideological intentions as we cast our votes.”

The call for an election was the swan song of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. After announcing the move toward democracy, he immediately began preparing his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to take the throne.

The younger Wangchuck has stayed true to his father’s preference for “gross national happiness” rather than industrial development, keeping with anti-materialist Buddhist tenets central to Bhutanese culture.

The kingdom ended its formal isolation by joining the United Nations in 1971 and allowed foreign correspondents and tourists into the country three years later. But modernization and foreign influence is greatly restricted.

Only 6,000 tourists may visit per year—and only then after paying at least $200 a day for a visa. Television was not introduced until 1999 and citizens must wear national dress in public.

Headline Link: ‘Bhutan Votes for Stability but Rejects King’s Uncle’

Historical Context: Bhutan, Buddhism and the monarchy

Background: Bhutan today

Reactions: ‘Moving into a new era’

Opinion & Analysis: Readiness for democracy

Reference: Bhutan

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