Bhutan’s monarchy to end, National Assembly polls in March

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : The National Assembly elections in Bhutan will be held March 24, formally ending the Wangchuck dynasty’s 100-year-rule and transforming the predominantly Buddhist nation to a parliamentary democracy.

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In a notification issued in capital Thimphu Thursday, Bhutan’s Election Commission announced that polling will be held March 24 and the results declared the next day after authorities submit the list to King Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck.

Nearly 400,000 people aged 18 years and above out of the country’s estimated 700,000 population will be eligible to vote and elect 47 National Assembly members using electronic voting machines.

The voters are being issued identity cards.

“No alcohol shall be permitted to be sold or served from the day of the poll till close of counting in the National Counting Centre after the voting ends at 5 p.m. March 24,” Kunzang Wangdi, Bhutan’s chief election commissioner, said in the notification.

The poll was to be preceded by a primary round but since there are only two registered political parties in the fray, this round has been withdrawn and the parties will directly go to the final round on March 24.

Bhutan held polls to its upper house, called the National Council, Dec 31 last year. Fifteen National Council members have been elected and polls to five National Council seats will be held later this month. The king is to nominate five more members to the Council that has a strength of 25.

In December 2006, Bhutan’s then King Jigme Singhye Wangchuck abdicated in favour of his Oxford-educated son, Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was expected to usher in a parliamentary democracy in the country.

The former king had set the process in 2001 for Bhutan’s transformation from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary democracy.

After the National Assembly polls and the setting up of the new government, the king would become head of state, but parliament would have the power to impeach him by a two-thirds vote.

In April 2007, Bhutan had held mock parliamentary polls complete with dummy political parties, electronic voting machines and international observers as a full dress rehearsal.