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Bhutan MPs in computer game ban

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Speaker Nima Tshering
Mr Tshering says the laptops are a distraction

Parliament in Bhutan has banned its members from bringing laptops to work - to stop them playing computer games.

National Assembly Speaker Nima Tshering said laptops were turning out to be a "big distraction" during sessions.

"I have seen many of our lawmakers playing computer games when others are debating serious issues," Mr Tshering said. MPs rejected the allegations.

The tiny Himalayan country is slowly joining the modern world and held its first democratic elections in March.

Mr Tshering said: "I have no problem if the lawmakers carry their laptops and use it for data they might need during debates. But I have a major problem if they play games and look uninterested in the proceedings."


We need the laptops because that saves us the trouble of having to carry huge amounts of paper and documents

Anonymous assembly member

Assembly members disagreed, but were reluctant to comment on the laptop ban.

"We don't want a confrontation with the Speaker. Our democracy is new and we don't want to start with confrontations," one young member, who used to take a laptop into the chamber, told the BBC.

But he insisted that he should not be identified.

"It is not however true that we were always playing games," said the MP, who is from the governing Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).

"We need the laptops because that saves us the trouble of having to carry huge amounts of paper and documents."

Craze

The Bhutan National Assembly has also imposed bans on other electronic gadgets, and on eating and smoking in its premises.

Bhutanese men queue to vote in March
Elections to the National Assembly were held in March

"I want to keep the assembly premises as much free of garbage as possible," Mr Tshering says.

"But that's precisely why he should allow us to use laptops. That will save us paper and garbage," said the DPT assembly member.

Some other members voiced similar sentiments but were not willing to be quoted.

Computer games have become a craze in Bhutan in recent years.

Sales of desktops and laptops have gone up by about 50%-60% over the past five years, according to electronic retailers.

One reason for that is the growing popularity of the internet, which came to Bhutan just nine years ago - around the same time as television.

In a country where open criticism of the elite was unexpected, the anonymity of the web has given quite a few people the opportunity to express their opinions freely.

"All this is good for our democracy, is it not?" says Karma Dorji, a Bhutanese student in India.

Some Bhutanese also say they have taken to computer games and the internet because they are bored.

"What do you do when you are confined to your house during the freezing winter or the heavy rains? You get bored and these computer games help us kill boredom," said Ugyen Tshering, a housewife in the capital, Thimphu.




SEE ALSO
Bhutan experiments with democracy
25 Mar 08 |  South Asia
Bhutan holds its first elections
31 Dec 07 |  South Asia
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
Timeline: Bhutan
25 Mar 08 |  Country profiles

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