Bhutan Opposition Wins Parliamentary Elections

By Wasbir Hussain 15 July 2013

GAUHATI, India — Bhutan’s main opposition party, which campaigned on developing stronger ties with neighbor India, has won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections and will take over power in the tiny Himalayan nation.

The People’s Democratic Party won 32 seats in the 47-member National Assembly in the elections held Saturday, Chief Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi announced Sunday.

The ruling Peace and Prosperity Party won 15 seats.

The elected members of parliament belonging to the PDP were expected to meet over the next few days to choose their parliamentary leader, with Tshering Tobgay is likely to be named prime minister of the new government. Tobgay, the 47-year-old president of the PDP with a master’s in public administration from Harvard university, was opposition leader in the outgoing parliament.

The PDP has criticized the government for a recent deterioration of ties with India. The party had also sought greater devolution of power to the people, a slogan that proved popular in rural areas.

“People were looking for a responsible change and we will fulfill the promises we have made during the campaign,” Sonam Jatsho, the PDP’s secretary general said Sunday after the results were formally announced. “We have been emphasizing empowerment of the people and empowering local governments.

Jatsho reiterated that the new government would be committed to strengthening relations with India.

“Good relations with India are paramount for Bhutan and this has been nurtured by our leaders for decades,” he said.

Sandwiched between Asian giants China and India, Bhutan was long closed to the rest of the world before starting to open up in the 1960s. Foreigners and the international media were first admitted in 1974, and television arrived only in 1999.

India has had a special relationship with Bhutan, which over the decades has been the biggest recipient of Indian aid. Thousands of Bhutanese study in India, and New Delhi has helped build several hydropower plants in Bhutan, with the electricity being sold to India.

However, India’s decision early this month to cut subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene to Bhutan was a major election issue, with media reports saying India cut the subsidies to show its unhappiness over the Bhutanese prime minister’s cozying up to rival China.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley’s meeting with then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at an environmental summit in Brazil last year did not go down well in India.

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a congratulatory message to the leaders of the PDP assuring them of India’s ”steadfast and unflinching support” and promising to strengthen ties.

Singh said he had already instructed officials to prepare for discussions on India’s planned assistance to Bhutan. “India is, and will remain, sensitive to Bhutan and its interests,” he said.

New Delhi has said it would review the decision to cut the subsidies and work out a solution once India finalizes its financial aid to Bhutan for the next five years. The last aid plan ended in June.

It was Bhutan’s second parliamentary vote. The remote nation of about 738,000 held its first election in 2008 after the Bhutanese king voluntarily reduced the monarchy’s role in running the country. Wangdi said more than 80 percent of the nearly 382,000 eligible voters cast ballots.

Primaries held in May had eliminated three of five political parties, leaving the Peace and Prosperity Party and the People’s Democratic Party. The results showed that many supporters of the three parties who lost backed the PDP. In the primaries, the Peace and Prosperity Party secured 45 percent of the vote compared to the PDP’s 35 percent.