Tens of thousands line up to cast votes in Bhutan


GAUHATI, India: Tens of thousands of people in Bhutan lined up Saturday to elect a government in the tiny Himalayan nation’s second parliamentary elections. An earlier round held in May eliminated three of five political parties, leaving Bhutan’s ruling Peace and Prosperity Party and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party to contest Saturday’s conclusive poll. The remote nation of about 738,000 held its first election in 2008 after the king voluntarily reduced the monarchy’s role in running the country.

Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi said election authorities have set up 850 polling stations, including in hard-to-reach mountain villages.

Nearly 382,000 people are eligible to elect a 47-member National Assembly, he said.

Long lines snaked out from polling stations, as people came out in droves to choose their representatives. Many held umbrellas to shield themselves in the bright sunlight as the country enjoyed a rare sunny day.

Authorities sealed off Bhutan’s borders with neighbouring India, and the Bhutanese army was assisting the country’s small police force to ensure that the elections passed peacefully, Wangdi said.

In the primaries held in May, the governing Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, or Peace and Prosperity Party, headed by outgoing Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley, secured 45 per cent of the vote compared to the opposition PDP’s 35 per cent. Three political groups were eliminated in the primaries.

The campaigning by the 94 candidates has been subdued as they mostly participated in debates on state-run television rather than holding street rallies.

In a bid to keep the elections free, the election commission prohibited candidates from offering food, including the customary cheese and beer, to people attending the election rallies.

”No freebies. This was our directive to the political parties,” Wangdi said.

Sandwiched between Asian giants, China and India, Bhutan was long closed to the rest of the world. It began opening up in the 1960s. Foreigners and the international media were first admitted in 1974. Television arrived only in 1999.