The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, also known as Druk Yul and ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty for a century, has turned into a democracy. Enriched with the experience of conducting smoothly the first round of election for its Upper House of Parliament in December and January (not to speak of two rounds of mock polls last year), the Shangri-la stepped into the final pace for converting an absolute monarchy to multi-party democracy. But it seems to lose democratic status in its highest policy making forum, as the opposition leaders have decided to resign from the National Assembly or the Lower House of Parliament.
While the international media was pouring news from the newest democracy in the globe, the Election Commission of Bhutan had received a letter from the opposition party alleging the malpractices in the last general election on March 24. The result of the polls, which was declared next day, showed the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) emerging as an overwhelming winner with 45 seats out of 47 parliamentary constituencies. The DPT (meaning Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party) is led by the former Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley, who is supposed to take the same responsibility once again in the coming few days. The DPT had a pictorial design of three flying birds (Thrung Thrung Karm) as its poll symbol.
Meanwhile, an Election Commission official based in the capital revealed that they had received a letter from the rival PDP leaders. ?But we have to do nothing as they have decided to resign from the National Assembly. The decision regarding the acceptance of their resignation will be taken by the speaker only,? the officer confirmed. The Parliament session of the country is expected to begin next month, where the King would invite the leader of the party with majority elected members to form the government. The government will enjoy a term of five years. Before the government starts functioning, a speaker to the Lower House will be elected.
The Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan, Dasho K. Wangdi, had however claimed that the polls were free and fair, and it was monitored by the mediapersons and political observers from many foreign countries.
Members of the royal family and clerics directly associated with the religious institutions were not allowed to participate in the voting. The poll date, March 24, was declared as a national holiday with all government and private establishments were closed.
Nearly 80 per cent of the 3,18,465 registered voters exercised their franchise, quoting the Election Commission of Bhutan, Kuensel, a government run newspaper reported. The Bhutanese citizens, who are 18 years and above and holding valid citizenship cards were eligible for voting. However the candidates for the polls were compulsorily graduates. Bhutan has, on record, more than 11,000 graduates. Earlier, the Election Commission disqualified a third party named Bhutan People United Party (BPUP). The BPUP lacks both maturity and the appropriate mix and strength in terms of its membership since more than 80 per cent of the members are school dropouts, or have no credible academic qualifications, the Commission declared.
The Bhutan Election Commission had already conducted the polls for 25 member Upper House of Parliament (called National Council), where each Dzongkhags (a district) elected 20 members and five eminent personalities from various fields were nominated by the King. Nearly 50 per cent voters turned up for the Upper House election.
The isolated Buddhist kingdom, sandwiched between two giant neighbours (India and Tibet/China), is known for its unique standard of community living, where the rulers weigh more on Gross National Happiness (GNH) in spite of internationally recognised Gross National Product index. Smoking is banned throughout the country, where education and health care facilities are provided free for every Bhutanese. An isolated Kingdom had witnessed the entry of television in 1999 only. Soon the internet facilities followed.
Talking to this correspondent from Thimphu, a journalist cum political commentator argued that the PDP had come out with the allegation because of their thwarting failure in the polls. ?I agree there should have been a stronger opposition for a successful democracy in our country. But now we cannot help but accept the verdict of the polls,? argued the senior Bhutanese based in Thimphu.