Bhutan’s rul­ing party ousted in early polls

It loses out in votes to two ri­val par­ties, which will con­test run-off

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

NEW DELHI Bhutan’s Prime Min­is­ter con­ceded de­feat yes­ter­day af­ter the rul­ing party was knocked out in the first round of the small Hi­malayan na­tion’s third-ever elec­tion.

Har­vard-ed­u­cated Tsh­er­ing Tob­gay was seek­ing a sec­ond term in the polls, but his party lost out to two ri­val par­ties, which will con­test a run-off on Oct 18, re­ported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Elec­tion of­fi­cials said Druk Phuen­sum Tshogpa (DPT), which won Bhutan’s first elec­tion when the king­dom tran­si­tioned to democ­racy i n 2008, at­tracted nearly 93,000 votes, nar­rowly beat­ing Druk Nyam­rup Tshogpa (DNT).

Bhutanese vot­ers have changed their gov­ern­ment in ev­ery gen­eral elec­tion since the first one in 2008, re­ported news web­site The Wire.

“I con­grat­u­late DNT and DPT and their can­di­dates (on) their out­stand­ing per­for­mance,” Mr Tob­gay posted on Twit­ter. The 52-year-old moun­tain-bik­ing en­thu­si­ast and his Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (PDP) won power in 2013.

DNT party chief Lo­tay Tsh­er­ing said he was sur­prised by the PDP’s poor show­ing. A urol­o­gist, he led his cam­paign on the theme of nar­row­ing the wealth gap and tack­ling un­em­ploy­ment.

DPT pres­i­dent Pema Gyamt­sho, who was the leader of the op­po­si­tion in the pre­vi­ous Na­tional Assem- bly, sug­gested the poor re­sult for the PDP may have been due to the “anti-in­cum­bency fac­tor”.

More than 291,000 peo­ple cast their votes in last Satur­day’s polls for a 66 per cent turnout of reg­is­tered vot­ers, an elec­tion of­fi­cial told AFP.

It ap­peared that a large turnout among the high num­ber of reg­is­tered postal vot­ers was de­ci­sive in the re­sult, re­ported The Wire.

Postal vot­ers ac­counted for 30 per cent of the to­tal reg­is­tered 438,663 vot­ers, com­pared with just 12.7 per cent in Na­tional As­sem­bly elec­tions held in 2013.

The 81.1 per cent turnout among postal vot­ers was much higher than the over­all voter turnout.

Bhutan has tried to shield it­self from the down­sides of mod­ernisa- tion, striv­ing for “gross na­tional hap­pi­ness” over gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth, main­tain­ing a car­bon-neg­a­tive econ­omy and keep­ing tourist numbers down with a daily fee of US$250 (S$340) per vis­i­tor in high season, re­ported AFP.

The 800,000 in­hab­i­tants of Switzer­land-size Bhutan got tele­vi­sion in 1999, and democ­racy ar­rived only in 2008, when its “dragon king” monar­chy ceded ab­so­lute power.

Cor­rup­tion, ru­ral poverty, youth un­em­ploy­ment and the preva­lence of crim­i­nal gangs re­main chal­lenges for Bhutan’s econ­omy.

Dur­ing the last elec­tion cam­paign in 2013, In­dia abruptly with­drew sub­si­dies for kerosene and cook­ing gas im­ports, in what was seen as an at­tempt to co­erce a change of gov­ern­ment.

In­dia is un­happy about China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Bhutan.

Last year, In­dia and China be­came em­broiled in a mil­i­tary stand-off over the Dok­lam plateau in the Hi­malayas, claimed by both China and Bhutan.

New Delhi does not claim the ter­ri­tory but has a mil­i­tary pres­ence in Bhutan. It stepped in to pre­vent the Chi­nese from build­ing a road there, prompt­ing Bei­jing to ac­cuse it of tres­pass­ing on Chi­nese soil.

Bhutan Prime Min­is­ter Tsh­er­ing Tob­gay was seek­ing a sec­ond term, but has con­ceded de­feat.

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