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Bhutan Holds Its First Democratic Elections

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The Himalayan country of Bhutan has held its first democratic election as the government continues its rigorous plan to modernize the nation and become a constitutional monarchy.

Fifty-five percent of the 269,337 registered voters cast ballots for seats in the upper parliament, known as the National Council. Low turnout may have been due to the long walk to polling stations.

Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi said, “We are pleased to say that the [National Council] elections were a success. We are confident that our switchover to a democratic set up will be smooth and according to our plans” (Press Trust of India).

There are a total of 25 seats on the Council: 20 chosen by voters and five handpicked by the ruling monarch, 27-year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. After elected officials take office, the king will assume a more ceremonial role overall.

The last five members are expected to be voted upon on January 29, as five districts did not nominate any candidates for the election. Votes for the lower house of parliament are scheduled for February and March.

Bhutan is known as one of the least economically developed nations in the world. Televisions were not introduced to the nation until 1999. However, many are happy with how things have been run during the 100 years of monarchy, and worry that democracy will change things for the worse. Others see democratization as an opportunity to grow and join the modern world.

The move toward modernization was orchestrated by the reigning monarch's father, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. In December 2006, he abdicated the throne to give his son political experience before the transfer to democracy began.


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