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Last Updated: Monday, 31 December 2007, 10:58 GMT
Bhutan holds its first elections
By Robin Forestier
BBC News

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 earlier showed people how to place their vote
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is holding its first parliamentary elections today after a century of direct rule by the monarchy.

The elections will leave Bhutan's young king with a more ceremonial role.

The vote is for the upper house of parliament, the National Council, and is part of the country's introduction of parliamentary democracy.

It is part of a radical modernisation plan for the isolated Himalayan kingdom.

The plan was devised by the former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

As part of the transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, he handed power to his 27-year-old Oxford University-educated son in 2006.

Uncertainty

Mock polls in April and May of this year were held to familiarise a people unused to voting but turnout was low.

Bhutan's King Jigme Kesar Namgyel
King Jigme Khesar took the throne in 2006 after his father abdicated

There has been anxiety and uncertainty about a new system of government from a public whose free health care and education was introduced under the monarchy.

Now the government is urging people to vote in large numbers and there will be more national polls to elect the parliament's lower house in February and March.

In preparation for the vote Bhutan has closed its border with India, where separatist groups are operating.

The government has also expressed fears former Maoist rebels from Nepal may try to disrupt the election in support of thousands of ethnic Nepalese refugees.

They were expelled by the Bhutanese government in the early 1990s and are demanding the right of return.



SEE ALSO
Bhutan and India sign new treaty
08 Feb 07 |  South Asia
Bhutan king makes foreign debut
07 Feb 07 |  South Asia
Bhutan announces election details
19 Sep 06 |  South Asia
Country profile: Bhutan
18 Apr 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bhutan
18 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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