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Bhutan makes it official: it's a democracy

The DPT swept 44 of 47 seats in the new National Assembly.

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Others were more upbeat about democracy. Passang Wangdi, a retired civil servant, said he was confident of the abilities of all the candidates: In Bhutan, all those standing for parliament must possess at least an undergraduate degree. Many of Bhutan's new politicians are doctors and lawyers.

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"The monarchy system isn't bad; it's good," Mr Passang goes on, as he stands in the shade of a blossoming peach tree. "But as the country changes and develops, democracy makes sense. I hope that in 15 to 20 years, Bhutan will be as modern and developed as any foreign country."

Organizing first-time elections is always a daunting task. But the logistics have been especially challenging in Bhutan, where large sections of the population are reachable only by foot. Several thousand polling officers were tasked with ensuring that polling stations operated smoothly.

The chief election commissioner, Kunzang Wangdi, said that mules and horses had carried voting equipment to remote polling stations, while helicopters were used to drop in voting guidelines.

But more challenging than these logistics was the "very concerning" threat posed by Nepalese rebel groups, Mr. Wangdi said.

The Thursday before the polls, Nepalese rebel groups detonated three bombs. No one was seriously injured. The grievances of these groups stem from 1990, when tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis were forced out of Bhutan after they protested what they claimed was discrimination.

More than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis now live in crowded camps in Nepal, although some have now been given citizenship in the United States.

Around the same number live in southern Bhutan. Many claim to have been denied identity cards, and with that, the right to vote.

Observers believe that the needs of Bhutan's ethnic Nepalis will be addressed after elections. Nineteen Nepali candidates stood in the country's 47 constituencies.

"I think this issue will be addressed when the new government is in place," says Gopilal Acharya, editor in chief of the Bhutan Times. "It should be a priority."

Security concerns aside, Bhutan's first elections were conducted with characteristic tranquility and good grace.

Democracy has, however, introduced a new, adversarial style that the traditionally peaceable Bhutanese may take some time to adjust to.

In the run-up to polls, some politicians engaged in public mudslinging, accusing each other of low-level corruption and vote buying – claims that have been covered gleefully by newspapers here.

"You could say that democracy changed Bhutan even before voting began," says Palden Tsering, spokesman for the DPT. "The country never, ever saw this kind of behavior before."

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