THIMPU: Bhutan voted today in primary polls to choose the top two political parties who will contest only the fourth-ever general election in the tiny Himalayan kingdom’s history.
Voters travelled from far across the mountain nation to cast ballots for five parties, with the leading two to compete in the general election on Jan 9.
Bhutanese people voted for the first time in 2008 after political reforms were instituted soon after the start of the reign of the present king. He remains widely popular among the country’s nearly 800,000 people.
In the capital Thimpu today, AFP journalists saw small queues as people waited to vote alongside fluttering prayer flags in the majority Buddhist nation.
With large parts of the country far from motorable roads, a quarter of the nearly 500,000 registered voters will use postal ballots, but many are still travelling long distances to take part in person.
“My family and I embarked on a two-day journey from the capital to our hometown in Trashigang to participate in the election,” truck driver Samten Wangchuk said.
“As a private employee, I do not qualify for a postal ballot, so my wife, in-laws, and youngest child accompanied me.”
Wedged between China and India, the tiny Himalayan kingdom is famed for its philosophy of “Gross National Happiness”, which sees the country benchmark itself on citizen wellbeing instead of economic growth.
Wangchuck, 34, said he was determined to vote because the monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, had stressed it was a civic duty.
The truck driver added that he had been following political debates on television and social media.
“While party manifestos and election debates seem promising, the reality is that winning governments often fall short of fulfilling all their pledges,” he said.
“Nevertheless, participating in the election remains our responsibility.”
Elections have always been peaceful and orderly in the kingdom.
Bhutan has been governed for the past five years by Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, a physician known for conducting surgeries on the weekend as a “de-stressor” from the pressures of office.