Thimpu, Mar 24: Polling has come to an end in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan after voters in the world's newest democracy overcame reluctance to bring an end to the monarchy. About 61 per cent of 318,000 Bhutanese eligible to vote had cast their ballots by early Monday afternoon, Deki Pema, an Election Commission official, said. Bhutan's king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, urged all 318,000 voters to participate in the democratic process and a series of newspaper adverts and declared today a public holiday.
"First and foremost, you must vote. Every single person must exercise his or her franchise," King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck said in a statement. Bhutan's royal family started the democracy initiative. King Jigme and his father have toured the country in an attempt to convince people of the value of democracy and to persuade them to take part in the elections.
The royal family is very popular in Bhutan and many people are reluctant to see democracy introduced.
There are 47 seats in the new National Assembly and the two parties contesting the election have campaigned on more or less the same issues and have promised to continue the King's policies. Sandwiched between India and China, Bhutan is known by its people as Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Election sees 318,465 voters eligible to vote in 47 constituencies
Only two parties allowed to contest elections: The People's Democratic Party promises "service with humility" while the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa says it stands for "growth with equity and justice."
In January and December voters elected 20 members of 25-member National Council meant to act as an upper house of Parliament. The king chooses five remaining members After the election, Bhutan's 28-year-old, Oxford-educated monarch will remain head of state and the two political parties standing have stuck closely to the king's vision. Mock polls were held last year to familiarise voters with the process had elicited a tepid response.
"The political parties have put immense pressure on people to vote. So they will turn up in huge numbers," said Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi.