Elec­tion Be­gins

Southasia - - Brief­ing -

Re­cently Bhutan held its sec­ond par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in its his­tory, five years af­ter the Bud­dhist monar­chy gave up its ab­so­lute power. Vot­ers first chose mem­bers of the up­per house, the Na­tional Coun­cil, which is a non-party body. In the fol­low­ing weeks, they will de­cide which of the five par­ties would form the next govern­ment in the Na­tional Assem­bly.

Since early April, the 67 can­di­dates for the 20 elected Na­tional Coun­cil seats held de­bates and pub­lic meet­ings in their re­spec­tive dis­tricts fol­low­ing a lo­cal se­lec­tion process. King Jigme Kh­e­sar Wangchuk will se­lect five more mem­bers to this list. The Na­tional Coun­cil, hav­ing no po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, mon­i­tors the govern­ment’s ac­tions, re­views the leg­is­la­tion process, and ad­vises the king.

Vil­lagers in re­mote ar­eas had to walk for hours to at­tend the fo­rums and ques­tion the can­di­dates first hand. Sim­i­larly, the elec­tion staff had to make long treks to set up polling sta­tions in ar­eas in­ac­ces­si­ble by road. In ad­di­tion, Bhutan de­clared a pub­lic hol­i­day on Elec­tion Day and all bor­ders re­mained closed for twenty-four hours. Even if elec­tions are set to de­cide the new govern­ment, con­fu­sion per­sists among the po­lit­i­cal quar­ters and the pub­lic in a coun­try where the il­lit­er­acy rate stands at fifty per­cent and the monar­chy has held the law and or­der for decades. The can­di­dates are fac­ing prob­lems in de­liv­er­ing their pitches in the na­tional lan­guage, dzhonka, which is one of the many lan­guages spo­ken in Bhutan but not well un­der­stood in ru­ral ar­eas.

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