Voters in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan cast their ballots on Friday in the country’s second general election, which is being held in two stages.

The first round of voting is to decide which of the four parties in the fray — the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, which was the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, which sat in the Opposition, and two new parties, Druk Chirwang Tshogpa and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa — would participate in the second stage on July 13, a government official said.

Two parties would be eliminated and two would remain to contest the July election to the 47-member National Assembly, Bhutan’s Election Commission spokesman Cherub Wangpo said.

The Buddhist kingdom held its first general election in March 2008, marking the end of a century-old monarchy. The hereditary king remains constitutional head of the State, but has to retire by age 65 and can be removed by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.

Election officials armed with electronic voting machines, faxes and satellite phones had moved to the 850 polling stations, some making a week-long trek to remote areas.

“We wanted to ensure that no voter will have to walk more than two hours to cast his vote”, Mr. Wangpo said. In remote polling booths like those in the Lunana area in northern Bhutan, security officials numbered nine to 10 with just about a dozen votes expected to be cast, Mr. Wangpo added.

Counting would take place immediately after voting ended at 5 pm local time and the results would be sent in by phone, fax or email to the national results centre in capital Thimphu.

Bhutan has a total of 381,790 registered voters of which more than 50,000 were expected to vote by post, he said.

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