Bhutan's First Election Sees Landslide Win for Royalists

THIMPHU, Bhutan -- The Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, widely seen as the more royalist of the two parties seeking power, swept the first parliamentary elections ever in this secluded Himalayan kingdom, taking nearly every seat in the new legislature, the election commissioner said Monday.

The party, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, took 44 of the 47 seats in the new parliament, said Election Commissioner Kunzang Wangdi. Their opponents, the People's Democratic Party, won just 3 seats. Turnout was slightly more than 79 percent of the 320,000 registered voters, he said.

The results, which will not be official until Tuesday morning, came just hours after the polls closed. There were no reports of violence.

The vote ends more than a century of absolute monarchy.

But like much else in the mountainous land -- long known as a holdout from modernity, allowing television and the Internet only in 1999 -- Monday's vote had a twist: It was the king, not the people, who pressed for democracy.

"His majesty is like our father. We all prefer our father," said Karma Tsheweng, a 35-year-old mechanic.

Even in remote corners of the largely rural country -- in tiny hamlets where voting machines were delivered by yak -- elections were going smoothly, officials said earlier Monday.

Bhutanese have reason to be ambivalent about the election. The tiny country of about 600,000 people has prospered under royal rule -- it has a fast-growing economy, and nearly everyone has access to schools and hospitals.

The success contrasts with other South Asian countries such as Nepal or Bangladesh, which can seem like case studies in democracy gone wrong.