• Thursday, Oct 29, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:53 pm

Bhutan seeks happiness in a new government

  • Published at 02:56 pm October 18th, 2018
web-Bhutan-election-AFP-18-10-18
A Bhutanese polling official applies an ink mark to a Bhutanese voter at a polling station in Thimpu on October 18, 2018 AFP

The country of 800,000 people, famed for its Gross National Happiness index, is holding only its third national election

Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom jammed between India and China, voted in a national election Thursday guaranteed to usher in a new ruling party which must boost the economy without compromising the country's fierce independent streak.

he country of 800,000 people, famed for its Gross National Happiness index, is holding only its third national election since the monarchy initiated a transition to democracy in 2008.

Streets in the capital were mainly empty for the occasion as authorities declared a holiday for the election. Many voters looked forward to seeing a new government tackling problems including the country's large foreign debt, mainly owed to India.

"We expect a new broom to sweep well," said engineer Gopal Chettri after voting in the capital Thimphu. "It is a country with a limited budget so what can you say. Whatever party wins has to cope with it."

Results of the runoff vote -- to be announced Friday -- could see a government formed by a party only registered in 2013. 

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) narrowly led the first round of voting on September 15 with 92,722 votes, just ahead of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which won Bhutan's first election in 2008, on 90,020.

Harvard-educated prime minister Tshering Tobgay conceded defeat after his ruling party slumped to third place.

The rivals have vowed to bolster the economy and health system and improve government transparency. Corruption, rural poverty, youth unemployment and criminal gangs are all problems for the "Land of the Thunder Dragon."

The key will be exploitation of the country's hydro-electric power, which is mainly exported to India. The DPT wants to accelerate the construction of hydro-electric plants while the DNT is more wary of increasing Bhutan's foreign debt.

Hydropower financing -- which comes to more than $1.5 billion -- accounts for more than 80 percent of Bhutan's foreign debt. Most is owed to India, which has stumped up loans for four out of five of the kingdom's new hydro-electric projects.

Outside influence

Bhutan has tried to shield itself from the downsides of globalization, striving for "Gross National Happiness" over GDP growth, maintaining a carbon-negative economy and keeping tourist numbers down with a daily fee of $250 per visitor.

While Bhutan is proud of its cultural and political independence and has diplomatic relations with barely 50 countries, it knows it will have to open up -- a process which will likely stoke an existing tussle for influence between its neighbours.

During the last election campaign in 2013, fearing that Bhutan was moving too close to China, India withdrew subsidies for kerosene and cooking gas imports, in what was seen as an attempt to coerce a change of government.

Last year India and China became embroiled in a military standoff over the Doklam plateau claimed by China and Bhutan, and which sits on a strategic corner where the three countries meet.

India, which has a military presence in Bhutan, stepped in to prevent Chinese border guards from building a road there. 

Even though Bhutan does not have diplomatic ties with China, its giant neighbour is the third biggest source of imported goods and wealthy Chinese tourists are a valuable new source of income.

Many in Bhutan feel the country should rely less on India and give China and others a chance to help boost the economy and create new jobs. "Bhutan should make friends with other countries," said taxi driver Kinzang Dorji.

51
50
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail