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Bhutan's king relinquishes power with polls

world Updated: Mar 23, 2008 17:54 IST
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Bhutan stands poised to become the world's newest democracy on Monday with historic polls ordered by its revered royal family to end their absolute rule over the mountainous kingdom.

The tiny Buddhist state, wedged in the Himalayas between India and China, will elect members for a lower house, ending the century-old rule of the hugely popular Wangchuck dynasty.

The country's young Oxford-educated King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck made a forceful last-minute appeal over the weekend to his subjects, some of whom were initially reluctant to bring in democracy, to cast their vote.

"As you approach the duty of voting at the elections that will bring democracy, do so with pride and confidence of a people that have achieved so much," the king said in a statement published in the nation's newspapers.

"First and foremost, you must vote. Every single person must exercise his or her franchise," said the king -- the fifth ruler in the Wangchuck dynasty, which came to power in 1907.

The kingdom's path to democracy began in 2001, when former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck handed over the day-to-day tasks of government to a council of ministers, and finally stepped down in favour of his son in late 2006.

Since then, both father and son have travelled tirelessly around the country to explain to its 6,70,000 people why the nation should embrace democracy.

"The former king said, 'today you have a good king, but what if you have a bad king tomorrow'," said Kinley Dorji, managing director of the national Kuensel newspaper.