Nepal: Bhutan again votes for tradition as mock poll ends

By Bappa Majumdar

PHUENTSHOLING, Bhutan, May 29 (Reuters) - Bhutan voted for tradition and reinforced its faith in monarchy, officials said on Tuesday, as a mock election designed as a dress rehearsal for the country's first democratic polls next year came to an end.

The Druk (Thunder Dragon) Yellow party, standing for the preservation of tradition and values in the secluded Buddhist Himalayan kingdom, was the overwhelming winner as it swept 46 of the 47 mock\ poll constituencies.

The Druk Red party, advocating industrial development, bagged the one seat in the remote northeast of the country which voted on Monday, seen as a big step aimed at ending a century of royal rule in the conservative nation.

"Any philosophy of democracy is based on cultural history and tradition," said Kunzang Wangdi, head of the election panel. "It is heartening to see that people appreciate that tradition has to be an integral part of our modernisation process."

"The faith of the people of Bhutan on the system of monarchy, and the king on whom we have great hope, has also been reinforced," he told Reuters.

Monday's vote was the second in a two-stage mock election that began last month with four dummy parties. Two parties with the highest votes made it to the final round under a mechanism that aims to produce a two-party system.

Druk Yellow had won 44 percent of the vote in the first round. Druk Blue, which stood for a fair society free of corruption, and Druk Green, which represented ecologically sustainable development, stood third and fourth.

More than 160,000 people, or about 66 percent of the registered voters, cast their ballot on Monday, higher than the 51 percent in the first round.


The second round, however, was marked by violent protests outside Bhutan by refugees, mostly ethnic Nepali Hindus, who were evicted from the kingdom in 1990 for demanding more rights and equality.

At least 35 policemen and dozens of refugees were injured on Monday when they clashed with Indian police after they left their camps in Nepal and tried to enter India on their way to Bhutan, officials and witnesses said.

Indian police had arrested 23 people and suspected some of them to be Bhutanese refugees, an officer said.

A group of refugees continued to protest on Tuesday near the Mechi river on the India-Nepal border, holding placards that read "No democracy in Bhutan", witnesses and officials said.

There was trouble at a camp for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal as well.

Two refugees have been killed in police firing since Sunday after violent clashes broke out between the refugees and security forces that had gone to the camp to settle disputes between two rival groups, officials said.

Tension has mounted in the U.N.-supported camps in southeastern Nepal among Bhutanese who want to resettle in the United States, which has offered to take 60,000 refugees, and those who insist on repatriation to their homes in Bhutan.

Democracy in Bhutan is being ushered in by the former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who decided to hand power to an elected government against the will of many subjects, before passing his crown to his 26-year-old Oxford-educated son last December.

"We love our king and the results show that any party which follows the principles of tradition and culture in Bhutan will do well in the real elections," said Karma Tenzin, 60, a resident of Phuentsholing town.

Gopilal Acharya, the editor of Bhutan Times, a private newspaper launched last year, said tradition had always been an integral part of Bhutanese society.

"People will take time to understand the importance of industry in economic development," he told Reuters by phone from the capital Thimphu.

(Additional reporting by Manas Banerjee in Malda and Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu)


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