The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bhutan opposition threatens to resign over unfair election

Small party vows to resign from Himalayan country's first elected parliament

DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty ImagesA Bhutanese polling officer (R) prepares to disconnects the Electronic Voting Mechine (EVM) in the presence of the other polling officers at the end of counting at a polling center in Thimphu on March ...
NEW DELHI -- After a century of absolute royal rule, when politics moved at a glacial pace, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the world's newest democracy this week.

Yesterday it almost became a one-party state as members of its fledgling opposition said the country's first-ever general election had been unfair and they would resign from parliament.

The People's Democratic Party (PDP) won only two seats in the 47-member assembly, but both candidates said they would not take up their seats, alleging civil servants from the capital Thimpu had unfairly influenced the results after campaigning closed.

"We found that thousands of people descended on our villages, civil servants and people from the towns," said Tashi Tsering, a PDP spokesman.

"They went and did a lot of informal campaigning, which had a big influence on the results. This is completely against the law."

Bhutanese turned out in huge numbers to vote in the polls after the king urged them to embrace democracy. Thimpu was deserted as many people returned to their villages.

But everyone was shocked by the result, a landslide in favour of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which won 45 seats.

Political analysts said the vote was an endorsement of Jigmi Thinley, the DPT leader and a former prime minister. He is also a close advisor to the kings of Bhutan and a staunch monarchist.

But it was also a vote, they said, against the king's relatives by marriage who were seen as having used their influence to buy land cheaply and dominate business.

Sangay Ngedup, the PDP leader, is another former prime minister and uncle of the present king. He was thought to be popular with older rural voters for his record as agriculture minister, but lost his riding to a school teacher.

"With two members in opposition, that hardly constitutes an opposition," said Mr. Tsering.

"They felt they would rather use their resignations to try and get the election commission to look into these matters."

He added the PDP was not asking for a re-run of the polls.

"What we would like is that those responsible for breaking the law are held to account," he said.

The DPT declined to comment.

Kunzang Wangdi, Bhutan's chief election commissioner, said any resignations had to be submitted to the speaker once parliament convened.

"The election was free and fair and witnessed by the international media and independent observers," he said.

Reuters © 2008

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