Thimpu, Mar 24: History was created in Bhutan today, with the remote and landlocked country holding its first general elections after over 100 years of monarchic rule.
Voting began today to elect people's representatives to the country's National Assembly under the close watch of international observers, including an Indian delegation led by Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami. Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan, Kunzang Wangdi said: "This is a historic moment for all of us, every possible step has been taken for the smooth conduct of the elections," he said. Personnel of the Royal Bhutan Army and the Royal Bhutan Police were deployed at the booths to prevent any untoward incident, Wangdi said.
Polling began for the 47 members Lower House, with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) or Bhutan United Party locked in a tight race for power, at 9:00 a.m. local time, half-an-hour ahead of Indian time.
Over three lakh voters will cast their franchise at 865 polling stations set up across the country while electronic voting machines from India are being used for the polls.
Counting will begin soon after polling ends at 5:00 p.m. and the results are expected to be out by the night.
Bhutan has been preparing for democracy since its former monarch King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to hand over power to an elected government. His 28-year-old son, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck will remain titular head of state.
The young Oxford-educated King made a strong pitch at the weekend for his subjects, many of whom have been reluctant to usher in democracy, to cast their vote judiciously.
The monarchy is popular in Bhutan, which is located between India and China, 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.