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Bhutan bars non-graduates from parliament contest

india Updated: Nov 03, 2006 12:42 IST

Bhutan has banned anyone without a university degree from standing in its first ever parliamentary elections in 2008, a move that would bar more than two thirds of the current, unelected assembly.

Bhutan's Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, said candidates married to a foreigner would also be barred from the contest, as the remote Himalayan kingdom steps gingerly towards democracy and away from absolute monarchy.

The new rule will make more than 100 members of the present 150-strong National Assembly ineligible for the deeply traditional Buddhist country's first election.

"We would like the parliament of Bhutan to be a very dynamic one as it would be the only law-making body to decide important issues of great national significance," Wangdi told the agency by telephone from the capital Thimphu.

"Therefore we want every member to have at least a university degree," he said.

Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck has been slowly pulling his mountain state into the modern world and plans to relinquish much of the monarchy's power.

A new constitution has been drawn up and is expected to be formally adopted this December.

The king will then stand down in favour of his son in 2008, when parliamentary elections will also be held and the monarchy will celebrate its centenary.

The present National Assembly includes 104 representatives nominated by village and town councils, 10 cabinet ministers, 10 members of the Buddhist clergy, 23 civil servants, one representative of the armed forces and two from the business community. Only 41 are graduates, Wangdi said.

The country, sandwiched between India and China, has the lowest rate of literacy in South Asia at around 42 per cent, with around 3,000 graduates in a population of 700,000.

Some Bhutanese are already unhappy with the new election rule.

"A college degree can't be the right criterion for qualification as a politician, as a less educated person can be as good or bad as a graduate in politics," said Kazilal Chhetri, a businessman in Samdrup Jongkhar, a town on the Indian border. "It's brains and wits that counts."

The 2008 polls will be held in two phases and is designed to result in a two-party system.

In the first phase all political parties will be allowed to nominate as many candidates as they want.

In the second phase only the two parties, which have polled the highest number of votes nationally will be allowed to fight it out in each constituency.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck became king in 1972 at the age of 16 after the death of his father.

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