Bhutan – India’s neighbouring country voted in the final phase of the general elections on Thursday.
This is Bhutan’s third national election since the country’s ruling monarchy initiated a transition to democracy in 2008. A total of 438,663 registered voters chose candidates on Thursday for the 47-member National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, Election Commission secretary Dawa Tenzin said.
Results of the voting are expected to be announced Friday and could see a government formed by Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). The DPT had won Bhutan's first-ever election when the kingdom transitioned to democracy in 2008. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) narrowly led the first round of voting on September 15 with 92,722 votes, just ahead of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).
Harvard-educated prime minister Tshering Tobgay conceded defeat after his ruling party slumped to third place in the first round of elections.
Economic issues rank high in the campaign manifestos of both parties. Despite posting an impressive growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2017, Bhutan faces high unemployment and rising external debts, mainly owed to India. Corruption, rural poverty, youth unemployment and criminal gangs are all problems for the "Land of the Thunder Dragon."
Bhutan has tried to shield itself from the downsides of globalisation, striving for "Gross National Happiness" over GDP growth, maintaining a carbon-negative economy and keeping tourist numbers down with a daily fee of $250 per visitor.
While Bhutan is proud of its cultural and political independence and has diplomatic relations with barely 50 countries, it knows it will have to open up -- a process which will likely stoke an existing tussle for influence between its neighbours – India and China.
Even though Bhutan does not have diplomatic ties with China, its giant neighbour is the third biggest source of imported goods and wealthy Chinese tourists are a valuable new source of income.
Many in Bhutan feel the country should rely less on India and give China and others a chance to help boost the economy and create new jobs. (With inputs from PTI and AFP)