New party to face old guard in Bhutan’s fourth free vote

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – A new group is among the two political parties chosen by Bhutan’s people to contest its fourth free vote since democracy was established 15 years ago, while the outgoing ruling party was knocked out, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) said on Friday.

Nestled between China and India, Bhutan is known for its pioneering of a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, an alternative economic gauge that takes into account factors normally ignored by gross domestic product measures, such as recreation and emotional well-being.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) received the highest number of votes in the preliminary round of the election held on Thursday, followed by the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP), the ECB said.

A total of five political parties contested the preliminary polls.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), the party headed by outgoing Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, finished fourth, the ECB vote counts showed.

The commission invited both PDP and BTP “to formally nominate one candidate each in all the 47 National Assembly constituencies” for the final round of voting, which will take place on Jan. 9.

PDP, headed by former Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, is a liberal group founded in 2007, which had formed the government in Bhutan between 2013 and 2018.

The BTP, meanwhile, was formed in 2022 by Pema Chewang, a former bureaucrat.

Both parties say more investment is needed to boost the Himalayan kingdom’s $3 billion economy.

They also share similar views on several other issues such as the development of hydroelectric power, agricultural growth, and unemployment.

Majority-Buddhist Bhutan, which is roughly the size of Switzerland, has deep economic and trade relations with its southern neighbour, India, which is its biggest donor.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Alex Richardson)