March 28, 2008 / 1:43 PM / 12 years ago

Bhutan loses opposition as MPs cry foul over poll

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - After a century of absolute royal rule, when politics moved at a glacial pace, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the world’s newest democracy this week.

Bhutanese voters stand in a queue to cast their ballot outside a polling station in Thimpu March 24, 2008. After a century of absolute royal rule, when politics moved at a glacial pace, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the world's newest democracy this week. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

On Friday it almost became a one-party state, as its fledgling opposition said the country’s first ever general election had been unfair and they would resign from parliament.

The People’s Democratic Party won only two seats in the 47-member assembly, but both candidates said they would not take up their seats, alleging that civil servants from the capital had unfairly influenced the results after campaigning had closed.

“We found that thousands of people descended on our villages, civil servants and people from the towns,” PDP spokesman Tashi Tsering told Reuters. “They went and did a lot of informal campaigning, which had a big influence on the results.

“This is completely against the law.”

The people of Bhutan turned out in huge numbers to vote in this week’s polls, after their king urged them to embrace democracy. The capital Thimpu was deserted as many people returned to their villages.

But everyone was shocked by the result, a landslide in favour of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which won 45 seats.

Political analysts said the vote was an endorsement of DPT leader and ex-prime minister Jigmi Thinley, a close adviser to the kings of Bhutan and a staunch monarchist.

But it was also a vote, they said, against the king’s relatives by marriage who were seen as having used their influence to buy land cheaply and dominate business.

PDP leader Sangay Ngedup was a former prime minister himself and uncle of the present king, and thought to be popular with older, rural voters for his record as agriculture minister. Yet he lost in his constituency to a school teacher.

“With two members in opposition, that hardly constitutes an opposition,” said the PDP’s Tsering. “They felt they would rather use their resignations to try and get the election commission to look into these matters.”

But Tsering said the PDP was not asking for a re-run of the polls.

“What we would like is that those responsible for breaking the law are held to account,” he said.

The DPT declined to comment on the charges, and Bhutan’s Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi said any resignations had to be submitted to the speaker once parliament convened.

“The election was free and fair and witnessed by the international media and independent observers,” he told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar

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