Bhutan begins vote for new parliament
Voters in Bhutan cast ballots to begin electing a new parliament yesterday for only the second time in the Himalayan nation's history, five years after the monarchy ceded absolute power.
The day was declared a public holiday in the landlocked Buddhist nation, wedged between India and China, while the land borders were closed for 24 hours over the election period.
Voters lined up in their distinctive traditional dress -- the knee-length wrap-around "gho" for men and the ankle-length dress known as the "kira" for women -- at polling stations across the nation.
They used electronic voting machines to choose members of the upper house National Council, whose 25 members have no party affiliation.
In coming weeks they will decide which of five parties will form the next government in the lower house National Assembly.
The role of the council is to monitor the actions of the government, review legislation and advise King Jigme Khesar Wangchuk. It can also propose laws, provided they are not financial.
Observers say the outcome of the council vote is unlikely to be a pointer to the National Assembly elections, whose dates have still to be announced.
Bhutan is famed for its upscale tourism and unique yardstick of Gross National Happiness, which measures the mental well-being of citizens, not just their material wealth.