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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 April 2007, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Bhutan holds fake national poll
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

A polling official helps an elderly woman cast her vote during a mock poll at a polling station in Bangtsho, Bhutan, 21 April 2007
Polling officials showed people how to place their vote
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has taken a big step to end 100 years of monarchy by staging a mock election.

The idea was to familiarise the people of this isolated nation with the concept of parliamentary democracy before next year's national election.

In 1998 the king gave up absolute power and in 2006 he abdicated to his son.

But many still hold much affection for the former king, who once said that Bhutan's priority was not its GDP but its gross national happiness.

For the nearly 700,000 people who make up the breathtakingly beautiful kingdom of Bhutan, Saturday's mock poll was a chance to experience what democracy might feel like.

Voters spread across this landlocked country high up in the Himalayan mountains, trudged to their nearest polling station to choose from one of four mock parties - the Blue, Red, Green or Yellow Thunder Dragon Party, named after the country's national symbol.

The two most successful parties will compete in a run-off in May, in which high-school students will act as candidates.

Some 10,000 officials are involved in the logistics, with special observers from neighbouring India, which has helped train them.

It is all part of a process unleashed by the former king, Jigme Wangchuk, who has pledged to turn Bhutan into a parliamentary democracy by 2008.

But many Bhutanese are looking at their South Asian neighbours, many of whom are in political turmoil, and wondering if it is really such a good thing.

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Country profile: Bhutan
18 Apr 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bhutan
18 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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