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.