- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

THIMPHU, Bhutan (AP) — A political party seen as the more royalist of two groups seeking power swept the first parliamentary elections ever held in this secluded Himalayan kingdom, Bhutan’s election commissioner said yesterday.

The Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party took 44 of the 47 seats in the new parliament, Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi said. The People’s Democratic Party won the remaining three seats.

Turnout was slightly more than 79 percent of the 320,000 registered voters, Mr. Wangdi said. Even in remote corners of the largely rural country — in hamlets where voting machines were delivered by yak — the election went smoothly, officials said.

The results will not be official until this morning.

The vote ended more than a century of absolute monarchy in the mountainous land long known as a quirky holdout from modernity, allowing television and the Internet only in 1999.

The election came with a twist: It was the king, not the people, who pressed for democracy.

“His Majesty is like our father. We all prefer our father,” said Karma Tsheweng, a 35-year-old mechanic.

But Mr. Tsheweng and hundreds of thousands of others nonetheless lined up at polling stations across the Land of the Thunder Dragon to vote yesterday, excited at getting to try something new but nervous about what may happen after they’ve traded their “Precious Ruler” for politicians.

The country of about 600,000 people has prospered under royal rule. Its fast-growing economy is slowly lifting many people out of poverty and nearly everyone has access to schools and hospitals.

The democratic process in Bhutan was started by King Jigme Singhye Wangchuck, who abdicated in favor of his son in 2006. Bhutanese regularly refer to both as “His Majesty.”

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