15 members declared elected to Bhutan Par

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Kathmandu, Jan 2: Marching towards democracy from absolute monarchy, Bhutan today declared results of the December 31 National Council Elections.

Fifteen lawmakers were declared elected to a 25-member parliament. Another five members will be elected on January 29 while King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck will appoint another five eminent citizens as members of the new house. In February and March, more important polls--elections to the lower house, are expected to take place. The newly formed political parties would take part in these elections.

Members of the upper house, serving a maximum five-year term, are not allowed to join political parties.

Altogether there are 20 districts or 'dzongkhag' in Bhutan with each sending a member to the parliament, Kuensel online reported.

A total of 147,789 people voted in the first round of the National Council elections held on December 31, representing 55 per cent of the 269,337 registered voters.

According to the Election Commission of Bhutan(ECB) 143,633 votes were cast on the 724 electronic voting machines spread around the country and 4,156 through postal ballots.

Polls were held under constant vigil by the Bhutanese and international media, with national and international observers at polling stations in the 15 dzongkhags that went to vote.

Polling began at 0800 hrs and closed at 1600 hrs. Bhutan's border with India was closed and security was present at polling stations, particularly in bordering dzongkhags.

Teething problems were reported from all polling stations, ranging from voter confusion to administrative lapses and postal ballots, but the election went off smoothly, informed Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

''The success of the National Council elections has to be attributed to the voters, who turned out to vote, the entire team of dedicated election officials, security personnel, and polling officers, who worked tirelessly with commitment and enthusiasm,'' Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kinzang Wangdi said. About 15,000 people were involved in organising and conducting the elections. There were also three observers from the Election Commission of India, one from the Australian High Commission, and five from UN agencies in Bhutan.

The Resident Coordinator of the UN system, Mr Nicholas Rosellini, who visited 10 polling stations on December 31, said he was impressed by the smooth organisation of the elections.

Having watched the mock elections earlier this year, when the awareness level was low, he said, he found the people much more self-confident and knowledgeable about what they were doing.

''The elections were free and fair, with voters coming from diverse backgrounds,'' said the UN Resident Coordianator.

After observing the elections in Bumthang, Trongsa, and Punakha, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Indian state of Manipur, Mr R R Rashmi, said that the organisation of the elections was very systematic and the commitment of ECB and the people very high.

''It's an ideal situation here, with no crime and law and order problems, no threats to candidates and voters, like in India,'' he said.

''It was very free and fair and very good for democracy,'' he added.

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

The monarchy is still popular in the Buddhist country mainly because of its policies focussed on promoting ''gross national happiness''.

While some citizens feel that these political changes may spoil the country, others are excited that this may be a ''new'' beginning.

UNI

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