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Economy high on voters’ agenda in Bhutan

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Second elections since it became a democracy

well-established foundation:Bhutanese at a polling station in Paro on Friday.— PHOTO: AFP
well-established foundation:Bhutanese at a polling station in Paro on Friday.— PHOTO: AFP

Voters in Bhutan braved rain and treacherous mountain paths to cast their ballots on Friday as the “land of the thunder dragon” began electing a government for only the second time.

Wearing traditional dress and sheltering under umbrellas, Bhutanese queued patiently at polling stations in the isolated Himalayan nation in the first round of voting to determine the Lower House of Parliament.

“There are so many pledges in their [politicians’] manifestos but basically what we expect is a government that can bring about happiness to the people and at the same time economic development,” said Chimi Dorji (35) as he waited to vote in Dopshari village, about a hour-and-a-half drive from the capital Thimphu.

“Because without economic prosperity there can’t be happiness,” he added.

Bhutan is the only country in the world to pursue “Gross National Happiness”, a development model that measures the mental as well as material well-being of citizens.

While the electorate comprises fewer than four lakh people, voting is a huge logistical challenge across the rugged country, where democracy was ushered in just five years ago after Bhutan’s “dragon kings” ceded absolute power.

In the run up to the poll, officials trekked for up to seven days to reach voters.

They battled heavy rains and slippery leech-infested trails to ensure that even isolated yak-owning nomads can cast their vote, the national Kuensel newspaper reported.

Voters chose from four parties in Friday’s primary round of voting for the National Assembly, out of which the two most popular parties are to contest a run-off on July 13. First results were expected late on Friday.

In the country’s first elections in 2008, the centre-right Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) won 45 of 47 seats available against the People’s Democratic Party.

This time two new centre-left parties joined the contestbut the DPT was generally expected to win again through its popularity with rural communities, which make up about 70 per cent of the population.

In the past five years they have seen hugely improved access to roads, electricity and mobile phone networks. But many educated, urban voters have their concerns, including a string of corruption scandals, lack of new jobs, a weak private sector and a rupee liquidity crunch.

Turnout was just 45 per cent inlast month’s Upper House elections, but greater interest was expected on Friday, which had been declared a public holiday. — AFP


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