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Royal rule ends in Bhutan

TOKTOKHA, Bhutan — Without revolution or bloodshed, this tiny Himalayan kingdom became the world's newest democracy Monday, as Bhutanese voted in their country's first parliamentary elections, ending a century of royal rule.

In a historic event for the country, entire families took to winding mountainous roads, traveling sometimes for days in minivans, on horseback and on foot to cast their ballots, marking Bhutan's transition to a constitutional democracy.

More than 79 percent of the estimated 318,000 registered voters turned out at polling places.

It was the king, as well as his father and predecessor, who ordered the subjects to vote, in the belief that democracy would foster stability in a geographically vulnerable country wedged between China and India and known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

By Monday evening, early tallies indicated that the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, or the DPT party, had won in a landslide, capturing 44 of the 47 seats in the national assembly. Analysts said the party benefited from the fact that five of its members had previously served as government ministers in the royal administration. The People's Democratic Party, or PDP, won only three seats.

"We will set aside our differences and reconcile; that is what's most important. His Majesty has given us a precious gift," said Sangay Ngedup, president of the PDP.

Many Bhutanese still refer to both the king and his father as "His Majesty."

The king, 28-year-old Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck, will remain head of state and likely retain much influence.

His father, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated the throne in 2006, after taking methodical steps to give power to the people, saying that he believed no leader should be "chosen by birth instead of merit."

As part of his Gross National Happiness plan, he reformed the country's feudal system, giving land and jobs to the poorest farmers and launching a free health and education system. He and his son remain immensely popular.

Royal rule ends in Bhutan 03/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:46am]
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