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Bhutan pledges free and fair elections

The poll chief said criminals won't be allowed to contest in the first-ever parliamentary polls in the kingdom scheduled for 2008.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2006 19:02 IST

Bhutan has pledged a free and fair poll and said it would not allow criminals to contest in the first-ever parliamentary elections in the kingdom scheduled for 2008.

"The main objective is to create an environment for a free and fair election so that every Bhutanese who is eligible and interested can take part without any fear of consequences," Bhutan's Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said.

"There will be no place for criminals and we would ensure that responsible politicians are involved in the democratic political processes in the country and any undesirable and corrupt practices would not be tolerated," Wangdi was quoted as saying by Bhutan's national newspaper Kuensel.

Bhutan's bid to hold the first national elections in 2008 was formalised earlier this month with the king appointing the chief election commissioner to demarcate the constituencies for the historic polls.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced the appointments of two more key constitutional posts, the first formal step towards transforming the Himalayan nation from monarchy to a parliamentary democracy.

The 50-year-old king last month made a landmark decision to abdicate the throne in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, 25, before Bhutan adopts a constitution and elects a prime minister in 2008.

"People should not think that parties are there to make money and gain power and voters too should not trade their votes for personal benefits," the chief election commissioner said.

"Parties will not be allowed to accept contribution from foreign sources although local private firms would be encouraged to support electoral campaigns."

The newly set-up election commission is 'racing against time' for the national elections.

"All the preparation work has to be completed by 2007 so that we can conduct trial runs before things actually take place," Wangdi said.

The transition began four years ago when the king handed over the powers of daily government to a council of ministers and empowered the national assembly to force a royal abdication if the motion was backed by three-quarters of its membership.

Bhutan last year unveiled a 34-point constitution, which is being sent to some 530,000 citizens for their views and is expected to be ratified after a referendum.

Once adopted, the constitution will replace a royal decree of 1953 that gave the monarch absolute power. King Wangchuck is the fourth ruler in the Wangchuck dynasty that came to power in December 1907.

The crown prince said the king would continue to play the role of a watchdog in Bhutan, known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, despite the transition from absolute monarchy to democracy.

First Published: Jan 19, 2006 11:43 IST