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Bhutan - Politics

The transition to electoral demoncracy came about as a result of a direct order by the previous monarchs. The people have embraced democracy enthusiastically, perhaps largely out of respect for the monarchy. That is the bizarre contradiction about politics in Bhutan. Bhutan has tried to protect itself from globalisation, striving for Gross National Hapiness over GDP growth, and maintaining a carbon-negative economy.

In March 2005, King Jigme Singye WANGCHUCK unveiled the government's draft constitution - which introduced major democratic reforms - and held a national referendum for its approval. In December 2006, the King abdicated the throne in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel WANGCHUCK. In early 2007, India and Bhutan renegotiated their treaty, eliminating the clause that stated that Bhutan would be "guided by" India in conducting its foreign policy, although Thimphu continued to coordinate closely with New Delhi. Elections for seating the country's first parliament were completed in March 2008; the king ratified the country's first constitution in July 2008. Bhutan experienced a peaceful turnover of power following parliamentary elections in 2013, which resulted in the defeat of the incumbent party. The disposition of some 18,000 refugees of the roughly 100,000 who fled or were forced out of Bhutan in the 1990s - and who are housed in two UN refugee camps in Nepal - remained unresolved.

Only college graduates can run for office, although only 3,000 exist in the country. Elections for the 20 elected seats of the 25 member upper house (National Council) were held on December 31, 2007, while elections for the lower house, the 47-seat National Assembly, were held in 2008. On 29 January 2008 Bhutan held the first of two rounds of parliamentary elections, the first nationwide elections in its history. Voters chose fifteen members of the National Council, Bhutan’s upper house of parliament. A second round of voting took place March 24, 2008. Observers from India, Australia, and the US assisted with the elections.

Two political parties, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) headed by Sangay Ngedup, and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) headed by Jigme Yoesar Thinley, competed in the National Assembly election. The new prime minister, Jigmi Kinley, was an experienced government worker. In the pre-parliamentary era the post of Prime Minister had rotated annually among members of the council of ministers , and His Excellency had served as prime minister on two previous occasions. His party, the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, won an overwhelming majority of Parliament: 44 out of 47 seats. There is one opposition party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) headed bySangay Ngedup. There are ten Cabinet Ministers. The elected Government holds office for a fixed period of five years.

The constitution states that political parties shall promote national unity and shall not resort to regionalism, ethnicity, or religion to incite voters for electoral gain. Political parties are required to be broad based, have a national membership, not be limited to a particular regional or other demographic constituency, and not receive money or other assistance from foreign sources. To run for office, party candidates must possess a university degree and resign from a civil service job if held. Individuals who resign from the civil service cannot re-enter the service. While only two political parties contested the 2008 national elections, five parties contested the 2013 elections. The government provided funding only for general elections and maintained rigid guidelines on party financing.

The Druk National Congress (DNC), established in 1994 by Bhutanese refugees in exile, continued to claim the government did not allow independent parties to operate freely. The DNC was unable to conduct activities inside the country. As part of the country’s strict separation of religion from politics, the law barred ordained members of the clergy, including Buddhist monks and nuns, from participating in politics, including voting and running for office.

While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The 1992 National Security Act permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed that as of 2015 there were at least 63 political prisoners in Chamgang Central Jail in Thimphu, out of a total prison population of 537. Most political prisoners were Nepali-speaking persons associated with protests in the early 1990s against government actions revoking their citizenship. The government reported that as of December 2014, there were 55 prisoners serving sentences resulting from convictions under the National Security Act or its related penal code provisions. No international monitors sought access to these prisoners. Since 2010 the government released 14 political prisoners, including one granted amnesty by the king.

Bhutan's opposition People's Democratic Party won an upset victory in parliamentary elections 13 July 2013. The country's Election Commission said on its website that the party has won at least 31 of the 47 seats being contested in the vote for parliament, while the incumbent Peace and Prosperity Party won at least 14 seats. The PDP needed 24 of the 47 seats to form the next government. The country's second general elections resulted in the country’s first democratic transfer of power to the opposition. International election observers reported the elections were generally free and fair.

The country’s third parliamentary elections are expected to start with the National Council elections in February 2018. For the People’s Democratic Party, their role as the governing party remains the top priority.

Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) started preparing for the third parliamentary elections to be held in 2018. The National Council will complete its term in May 2018, while the National Assembly will dissolve in August. Assuming that the prime minister does not dissolve the Assembly prematurely, elections could be held in late October 2018. In the case of the Council, however, elections could be held before May 2018 so that the third National Council starts its term as soon as the current Council members complete their term. This is because the Council is a “continuous House”.

ECB said that it has already issued public advisories to avoid the time periods of February to May 2018 and August to October 2018 for any programmes and activities that involve public gathering. Also, ECB has advised all prospective contestants that census be transferred in the constituency of their choice.

The two newly formed political parties, Druk Gaki Tshogpa and Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa, had yet to register with the Election Commission of Bhutan by July 2017. According to ECB, the promoters of the political parties were in the process of carrying out preparatory work such as mobilising members and support. Citing Rule 3.3 of the Political Parties Rules and Regulations 2015, ECB clarified that an applicant party will enjoy the rights and privileges of a political party under the Constitution only after it is registered and notified so by the Registrar of political parties.

By October 2017 there were five registered political parties - Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP), Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Bhutan is a very small country with limited voter base and too many political parties could mean fragmentation of voter base on lines of ethnic, cultural and familial divide. Bhutanese political parties do not have much new to offer in terms of campaign promises and pledges mainly because unlike in bigger nations, they do not cater to select target groups, and voters here comprise the general citizenry.

Bhutan Parliament’s National Council is an apolitical body, which means candidates contest as individuals and not as a representative of a political party. A minimum qualification is that candidates are required to have a formal university degree. The upper house is a significant part of Bhutan’s legislative body, with powers to review performance and issues, as well as, consider, pass, amend or reject “any legislation” passed by the lower house.

In the 25-member body, 20 seats are elected directly from each dzongkhag (district), while five are appointed by the Druk Gyalpo, King of Bhutan. On 20 April 2018 Bhutan has elected a new upper house of parliament for the third time, with a majority of new faces, including two women members. According to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), the final voter turnout was 54.3%. This was slightly above the 53% in the first NC elections in 2008 and substantially higher than the dip to 45.15% in 2013. Only 14 sitting members of the second National Council had stood again for re-election. Only five incumbents were returned after the surprise defeats of “sure-shot candidates” - people voted for change.

The National Council (NC) elections held on 20 April 2018, would be followed by the third National Assembly elections towards the end of the year. The primary round held 15 September 2018 resulted in a surprise defeat for the ruling People's Democratic Party of Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. Economic issues rank high in the campaign manifestos of both parties. Despite impressive growth of 7.5 percent in 2017, Bhutan faces high unemployment and rising external debts.

A relative newcomer, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) emerged victorious in the September polls with 31.8 percent of votes cast. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) (30.9 percent), formed the opposition from 2013 to 2018. As per the constitution of Bhutan only two parties, who get the highest votes in the primary round, can participate in the final round. DNT and DPT had got maximum votes in the primary round election, while ruling People’s Democratic Party [PDP] along with it the pro-India Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, came third and failed to qualify for the last round.

Many pundits had expected the ruling People’s Democratic Party to breeze past the primaries due to its popularity for having jump-started economic growth and resolved the shortage of Indian Rupee in its reserves, critical for the country’s trade. However, a strong anti-incumbent sentiment appears to have shifted the currents.

Voters in the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan cast their ballots in the country's third general elections to decide which party will lead the young democracy for the next five years. A total of 438,663 registered voters could choose candidates on 18 October 2018 for the 47-member National Assembly, or lower house of parliament. The poll was a runoff between the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa and the center-left Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa parties.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa manifesto pledged to continue Bhutan’s economic growth with a continued focus on the traditional sectors – hydroelectricity and tourism. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa manifesto outlined the goal of diversifying the Bhutanese economy by reducing its reliance on hydroelectric sector. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s manifesto proposes incentivising agricultural work, making teaching a sought-after job, and increasing public-sector wages, as well as focusing on healthcare.

Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) won the National Assembly elections. According to provisional results, DNT won 30 seats in 47 member National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) got the remaining 17 seats. DNT is led by Lotay Shering, a surgeon, who won popularity with his promise of better healthcare.

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