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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Bhutan announces election details
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan
The king has moved to end direct royal rule in the Buddhist kingdom
Officials in Bhutan have given details of the country's first-ever general elections, due to be held in 2008.

The polls will pave the way for a two-party system in the country. The authorities say there will be no restrictions on who is allowed to vote.

Chief election commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, said the elections would be held in two phases.

At the same time the king will be succeeded as leader of the tiny and remote Himalayan kingdom by his son.

Form government

This is a historic development in the history of Bhutan, and will formally bring an end to the country's absolute monarchy and a beginning to constitutional democracy.

The hope is that the gradual transfer of authority will be carried out smoothly, with none of the bloodshed that has been seen elsewhere in Asia when dictators and kings relinquish their powers.

Mr Wangdi said any number of parties and candidates will be able to contest the first round of the elections.

But in keeping with the country's draft constitution, only the two parties who secure the highest number of votes will be allowed to field candidates for the second and final round.

He said the party whose candidates win the maximum number of seats will form the government, while the other will sit in opposition.

A draft constitution will be adopted next year. The upper house will have 20 seats, and there will be 75 seats in the lower house.

Map of Bhutan
Country is about 38,000 sq km (15,000 sq miles) - sixth of the size of the UK
Hereditary monarchy established in 1907
Only 6,000 tourists a year allowed to visit
Smoking is banned
First introduced TV in 1999
King Wangchuck has four wives, all of whom are sisters
Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is in his mid-20s and unmarried

Bhutan has been a monarchy since 1907, but its current ruler, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, started a phased move towards democracy earlier this decade.

The king empowered the national assembly - or parliament - set up a council of ministers and gave them powers to run the government.

He also provided for his abdication if the assembly voted for it with a two-thirds majority.

Under his guidance, the national assembly set up a committee to draft the country's constitution which will be adopted through a process of extensive debate.

The king is due to stand down in 2008, and be replaced by his son, Jigme Keshar Namgyel.

"The committee has devised a unique system that will not deny any party or voter the opportunity to contest, but in effect will ensure a two-party system is in place in the kingdom," said Gautam Basu, a Calcutta based professor.

He said that the two-party idea was designed to stop political instability, so that one would always have a strong majority in the national assembly.

In a speech published in the state newspaper in December, King Wangchuck said he had every confidence that the people of Bhutan would be able to choose the political party best able to provide good governance and serve the interests of the nation.

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