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Bhutan votes in final round of national elections, economy main issue

CovidBhutan votes in final round of national elections, economy main issue

Bhutan began voting on Tuesday, the final round of national parliamentary elections that will form the Himalayan kingdom’s fourth government since democracy was established 15 years ago, with economic growth the main issue in the wake of COVID-19.

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) said that votings started at 8 am (0200 GMT) and will close at 4 pm. Results are expected by Wednesday.

The country of fewer than 800,000 people, roughly the size of Switzerland, has deep economic and trade relations with India, which remains its biggest donor and economic partner.

Nearly half a million voters are eligible to choose 47 members of parliament or National Assembly from among 94 candidates fielded by two political parties – Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which won the primary round in November. Both parties have similar election manifestos, in which they have vowed to boost the $3 billion economy.

Both the BTP and PDP parties have pledged to promote investment and boost foreign exchange reserves, which according to the central bank stood at $464.66 million at the end of October, compared with $759.16 million a year ago.

“The most important thing the Bhutanese people need is economic growth and the growth of their own,” said Karma, 49, a voter from Punakha, near Thimphu. “Many people are unemployed and even those who have jobs get salary that is not enough to support the growth of their family.”

The country relies heavily on aid and tourism, which has failed to recover despite the scenic nation lifting pandemic restrictions in September 2022.

Analysts are of the belief that the promises made by both the parties should be taken with a pinch of salt. “People now tend to be sceptical about promises the political parties make, as they have seen that many (past) promises remained unfulfilled,” said political analyst Sonam Tshering.

Political parties are “also aware that Bhutanese voters are much matured and discreet about whom they vote so that their votes remain secret”, Tshering said.

BTP was formed in 2022 and is led by a former bureaucrat. PDP was founded in 2007 by Tshering Tobgay, who had led the government after the elections in 2013.

In the three elections since 2008, no party has been chosen to head the government twice.

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