The reclusive Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan will hold its first national polls in February and March next year, a top official said on Monday, making its final shift from a century of absolute monarchy to democracy.
The isolated nation has been inching towards democracy since former monarch King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to hand power to an elected government, before passing his crown to his 26-year-old Oxford-educated son last December.
"We have made the announcements after a royal decree from His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo on June 30," the country's chief election commissioner, Kunzang Wangdi, told Reuters.
Druk Gyalpo is the formal title of the ruler of the tiny Buddhist country where most people still wear the national dress -- a knee-length colourful robe -- to work, and television and the Internet arrived only in 1999.
Bhutan held two mock polls in April and May to familiarise people with voting and to train officials.
Final dates of polling would be announced later, Wangdi said, adding that voting would be held in two phases.
In the first leg in February, all registered political parties can contest. The two getting the most votes will face off in the second and final round in March, he said.
Registration of political parties opened on Sunday and about 400,000 of the country's estimated population of nearly 700,000 would be eligible to vote, he said.
But thousands of ethnic Nepalis expelled from Bhutan in the early 1990s, who have been demanding the right to return to their birthplace and vote, will not be allowed to participate in these elections, officials said.