Bhutan goes to the polls
Tens of thousands of people in Bhutan lined up on Saturday to elect a government in the tiny Himalayan country's second parliamentary elections.
- Published: 13/07/2013 at 03:28 PM
- Newspaper section: breakingnews
An earlier round in May eliminated three of five political parties, leaving the ruling Peace and Prosperity Party and the main opposition People's Democratic Party to contest Saturday's conclusive poll.
The remote country of about 738,000 held its first election in 2008 after the king voluntarily reduced the monarchy's role in running the country.
A voter shows off a thumb marked with indelible ink after casting a ballot at the Changbangdru polling station in Thimphu on Saturday. (AFP Photo)
Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi says 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 India, and the Bhutanese army was assisting the small police force to ensure that the elections passed peacefully, Wangdi said.
International poll observers from Britain, India and the European Union were in Bhutan. "The international observers are free to travel to any polling station to see the poll being conducted," he 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% of the vote compared to the opposition PDP's 35%. Three other political groups were eliminated.
Vote counting will begin at the polling stations soon after voting ends, with the results expected on Sunday, Wangdi said.
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.
India has had a special relationship with Bhutan, and over the decades, Bhutan has been the biggest recipient of Indian aid. Thousands of Bhutanese study in India, and New Delhi has helped build several hydropower plants in Bhutan with the electricity being sold to India.
However, India's decision early this month to cut fuel subsidies — on cooking gas and kerosene — to Bhutan has become an election issue.
The Bhutanese government has asked India to reconsider its decision as the prices of cooking gas and kerosene have doubled.
New Delhi said it would review the decision and work out a solution once India finalizes its financial aid to Bhutan for the next five years. The last aid plan ended in June.
Media reports say India cut the subsidies to show its unhappiness over the Bhutanese prime minister's apparent cosying up to China.
The opposition PDP also blamed the governing party for a deterioration of ties with India.
An editorial in Bhutan's English-language daily Kuensel, in which the government has a majority share, said: "Many Bhutanese are hurt and angered by the timing [of the subsidy cuts], and feel it is a deliberate move to rock the elections."
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- Writer: Associated Press