Thimphu, 13 Jul (PTI): Bhutan began voting today for its second national elections with the race between the country’s two major political parties to form the government too close to call.
Brisk polling was witnessed with a large number of people coming out to exercise their franchise that will decide the fate of 94 candidates in 47 constituencies contested by two major parties, ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
With the start of voting at 9 am (local time), male, female, young and old wearing their best traditional dresses, queued up outside polling stations to cast their votes and the vote will continue till 5 pm (local time).
“So far everything is peaceful. The weather is also good.
We have reports of good polling from all parts of the country and expecting a high turn out,” Bhutan Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi told PTI.
India is providing logistical support, including gifting nearly 2,000 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to Bhutan and India’s Chief Election Commissioner V S Samapth is here to witness the democratic process in the Himalayan nation.
This is the second national election in Bhutan after the country turned into a democracy in 2008. In the last election, the opposition PDP could win only two out of the 47 seats up for grabs.
The DPT, with 45 legislators, ruled the country for five years with Jigmi Y Thinley as its head.
In the first stage of the polls on May 31, two parties, the Druk Nymrub Tshogpa (DNT) and Druck Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), lost out leaving the DPT and PDP to contest the final stage of the polls today.
Bhutan has a tri-cameral parliament of the King, National Council and the National Assembly. There are 25 seats in the National Council or the Upper House. Five of them are appointed by the King and 20 are elected from 20 districts.
National Assembly or lower house consists of 47 members elected from 47 constituencies. Representatives to both houses were elected first in 2008.
Wangdi said his country is grateful to India for its help to conduct the free and fair polls successfully by providing logistical support, including gifting nearly 2,000 EVMs.
At the end of polling at 5 pm (local time), the counting will begin immediately.
“The polling centres will become counting centres when the voting ends. We expect all results to be out after 9 pm,” Wangdi said.
“I have campaigned hard and I do believe that I have been able to convey the DPT’s message to people. It would be an honour and privilege to serve either as a governing party or in the opposition,” outgoing Prime Minister and DPT president Jigmy Y Thinley told reporters at Pemagatshel town, 350 km east of Bhutan.
DPT’s officiating president Yeshe Zimba said his party is confident that it will return to power for the second consecutive term.
“We are confident that the DPT will win the election,” he told PTI, adding, further improving bilateral relations with India would be his party’s priority.
PDP president Tshering Tobgay said it is a critical election and a tight race.
“This election is absolutely critical because stake are high. But we are cautiously optimistic,” he said at his constituency Haa.
PDP general secretary Sonam Jatso told PTI that it is a very closely contested election and his party is hopeful that it would be able to form the next democratically elected government in Bhutan.
The fate of 94 candidates in 47 constituencies will be decided by 3,81,790 registered voters, including 187,917 female voters. In addition, there are 48,000 postal voters.
Highest number of voters are in Satse, 41,769, followed by Trashigang, 41,510. Capital Thimphu has 12,453 voters.
“I am very excited to be part of our country’s democratic process. Whichever party wins, it will be the victory of democracy,” Kinley Tshering, creative director at Thimphu-based MediaMix, said.
Lowest number of voters are in Gasa, 1,842 voters.
About 10,000 officers, including security personnel, have been deployed for election duty.
There are 850 polling stations, including 215 temporary polling stations.
India is the only country whose CEC has been invited to oversee the Bhutan elections.