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Last Updated: Monday, 24 March 2008, 21:50 GMT
Bhutanese vote in historic poll
A man fixes the polling station sign at a school in Thimphu, Bhutan
Voters are spread out in remote mountainous regions
People in Bhutan have voted in elections that will bring an end to more than a century of royal rule.

Monday's vote for the 47-seat National Assembly completes the country's peaceful transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

Election officials say the Bhutan Harmony Party, led by Jigmi Thinley, won a landslide victory.

The only two parties in the race had similar manifestos, promising less poverty and better infrastructure.

Election commissioner Kunzang Wangdi said unofficial results showed Harmony, or Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), had won 44 of the 47 seats.

Its leader Jigmi Thinley is a former prime minister, as is Sangay Ngedup, the leader of the other party - the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

Mr Ngedup is also the brother of the former king's four wives - all sisters.

An election for the upper house of parliament, the 25-seat National Council, was held in December.

Mass exodus

The BBC's Chris Morris in Thimphu says people queued quietly in large numbers to vote.

Map

The capital was half-deserted, with many returning to their villages, he says. One report in a local newspaper told of a woman who walked a distance of 600km (370 miles) over two weeks to get home.

Two Indian air force helicopters dropped election guidelines in mountainous regions and mules and horses carried voting equipment to ballot stations.

But despite the activity a lot of people are not keen on democracy, and say they quite liked how things were before, our correspondent adds.

The tiny Buddhist kingdom has been preparing for democracy since former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to hand power to an elected government.

'Bit of corruption'

The country is now headed by his 28-year-old son, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, who will remain as head of state and is likely to retain some influence.

"Everyone is very sad to see the king stand down," 42-year-old businessman Kinley Penjor told Reuters news agency.

"But I think democracy will be good. In the past if you went to a minister about your problems - well there is always a little bit of corruption, even in Bhutan, or it might be decided according to his mood.

"Now we can elect the best candidates."

The monarchy remains popular in Bhutan partly because of its focus on promoting what it calls "gross national happiness" - based on the idea that economic growth should be balanced by respect for traditions and the environment.

Bhutan is not without problems. About one-fifth of the country lives in poverty and youth unemployment has risen sharply in recent years.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis were forced to leave Bhutan in the early 1990s when the government imposed strict citizenship rules.

The refugees are now living in neighbouring Nepal and many of them are demanding the right to return.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Voting taking place in Bhutan



SEE ALSO
Main Bhutan election date is set
17 Jan 08 |  South Asia
Bhutan holds its first elections
31 Dec 07 |  South Asia
Bhutan and India sign new treaty
08 Feb 07 |  South Asia
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07 Feb 07 |  South Asia
Timeline: Bhutan
06 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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