Bhutan gets first taste of democracy

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The Independent Online

By Simon Denyer in Thimpu

The people of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan shocked even themselves yesterday, by voting in the country's first parliamentary election for stability and experience but overwhelmingly rejecting a party led by the King's uncle.

It was not a vote against the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck or the century of royal rule – many said they were reluctant to embrace democracy – with Jigmi Thinley, a staunch royalist, emerging as the clear winner. But the scale of his victory, winning 44 of 47 seats, according to provisional results, sent a message that will reverberate around this deeply traditional and conservative land.

"It is truly amazing," said Palden Tshering, a spokesman for Mr Thinley's Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party. "The people really have made the decision."

The present King's uncle Sangay Ngedup even lost in his own constituency. If the King had to stand aside, the people of Bhutan seem to be saying, they are not sure they want his many relatives by marriage to take over.

"They have given the government to the public now," said one voter who declined to be named, in a country still not used to criticism of the elite or political discourse. "The youth must have chosen."