Voters in the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan will begin electing their second ever government this week, five years after the country’s Buddhist “dragon kings” gave way to democracy. The electorate of less than 400,000 people will choose from four parties on Friday when the primary round of voting for the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, commences. The two most popular parties will then contest a run-off round on July 13 to form the next government. Bhutan, which is landlocked by Asian giants India to the south and China to the north, held its first election in 2008 after the monarchy ceded absolute power and actively led the move to a parliamentary democracy. In the 2008 vote, the centre-right Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), drawn from the country’s traditional elite, won a huge landslide and secured 45 of 47 seats available against the People’s Democratic Party. This time two new centre-left parties, both led by women, are joining the contest, but the well-established DPT is generally expected to win by a small margin — although opinion polls are banned.
A rule that allows only graduates to stand for office has created difficulties for the new parties in their search for recruits, with a fifth party disqualified over its lack of candidates. “I think the DPT will get through because of the (pro-)incumbency factor,” a political analyst in the capital Thimphu told AFP, declining to be named.
He said Bhutan’s huge development under the DPT, especially the building of roads and provision of electricity to rural areas, made the party popular in a nation where more than 40% of people depend on agriculture and forestry.
Jigmi Y. Thinley, the incumbent prime minister, is also the only leading candidate who can speak in Bhutan’s many local dialects, which could help him win more support in remote corners of the country.