Bhutan, the picturesque Himalayan kingdom, has embarked on the final round of national parliamentary elections, marking a crucial decision for its fourth government since embracing democracy 15 years ago.
The voting, guided by Bhutan's unique Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, kicked off with economic growth taking centre stage amid the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nestled between India and China, Bhutan has no formal diplomatic relations with China but is in talks with Beijing to resolve border disputes with negotiations being closely watched by India, which has its own border dispute with China.
However, the border issue has not been a subject of debate during campaigning, as per reports by Livemint.
With nearly half a million eligible voters, the choice is between two political parties — Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with economic revival featuring prominently in both their manifestos.
The $3 billion economy, heavily reliant on aid and tourism, faces challenges despite pandemic restrictions being lifted in September 2022.
The BTP, formed in 2022 and led by a former bureaucrat, contends with the PDP, established in 2007 by Tshering Tobgay.
Both parties pledge to harness Bhutan's potential for hydro-electric power, boost agriculture, and address climate change risks, aligning with the nation's commitment to being the world's first carbon-negative country.
Analysts, however, remain cautious, noting past unfulfilled promises. No party has secured a second term in Bhutan's three elections since 2008, indicating voters' discerning approach to pledges made during campaigns.
The Election Commission of Bhutan expects results by Wednesday (10 January), determining the trajectory of Bhutan's economy and well-being under its unique governance philosophy.
Nayan Dwivedi is Staff Writer at Swarajya.
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