Bhutan cements democracy with tight election race

Bhutan cements democracy with tight election race
Bhutanese voters line up outside a polling station to cast their vote in Paro on May 31, 2013. 

THIMPHU, Bhutan - The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan concludes its second-ever election on Saturday, with the race to form a government too close to call as voters give their verdict on five years of democracy.

The incumbent Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party is up against the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to lead the "land of the thunder dragon", after two other groups were knocked out in a primary voting round in May.

Remote Bhutan's line of "dragon kings" ceded absolute power five years ago, introducing democracy to an electorate of fewer than 400,000 people.

The royalist DPT stormed the first election by a landslide in 2008 and won this year's primary round with 45 per cent of votes. But recent gains by the PDP have shaken up the contest.

"The general perception is that it could be a neck and neck race, where every vote counts," said an editorial on the national Kuensel newspaper website on Friday, after a 48-hour campaigning blackout began.

The DPT party has won popularity with rural communities - about 70 per cent of the population - for improving their access to roads, mobile phone networks and electricity in the past five years.

But the election process has been stirred up by a recent straining of ties with Bhutan's giant neighbour and longtime ally India, which suddenly cut subsidies earlier this month on cooking gas and kerosene to the kingdom.

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