Bhutan votes for stability but rejects king's uncle

Mon Mar 24, 2008 11:49am EDT
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By Simon Denyer

THIMPU (Reuters) - The people of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan shocked even themselves on Monday, voting for stability and experience in their first ever parliamentary polls but overwhelmingly rejecting a party led by the king's uncle.

This was not a vote against the much-loved king of Bhutan or a century of royal rule -- many people had said they were reluctant to embrace democracy, and the winner of the elections, Jigmi Thinley, was himself a staunch royalist.

But the scale of his victory, winning 44 of the 47 seats on offer according to provisional results announced by the election commission, sent subtle messages which will reverberate around this deeply traditional and conservative land.

"It is truly amazing," said Palden Tshering, spokesman for Thinley's Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). "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."

The winner, Thinley, was a former prime minister under royal rule, a man closely associated with gross national happiness, the former, fourth king's idea that economic development be balanced by respect for traditions and the environment.   Continued...

<p>Bhutanese voters stand in a line outside a polling station to cast their ballot in Thimpu March 24, 2008. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan</p>