10/27/2006, 00.00
BHUTAN
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Only university graduates to run for office in Bhutan's first 'democratic' elections

by Prakash Dubey
According to local priest, low literacy levels will ensure that only members of the ruling elite are elected.

Thimphu (AsiaNews) – Bhutan's new constitution, which should have set in motion the country's political and social renewal, might instead boost the power of the old Buddhist oligarchy that has governed till now. Under the proposed constitution candidates to parliament in the 2008 elections have to be university graduates.

For Fr Alex Gurung, a Catholic priest from the eastern Indian Darjeeling diocese that also covers Bhutan, this has both positive and negative consequences. "It would ensure that only capable persons would enter the parliament," but it would also mean that "the [Buddhist] elites would have hegemony over parliament". In fact, literacy in Bhutan is only around 42 per cent, the lowest in South Asia, and there are less than 3,000 graduates in the country with a population of over 600,000.

"Most of these graduates belong to the ruling royal dynasty and the Buddhist oligarchy." Fr Gurung said. "The poor, low class people and peasantry who suffer from the bane of illiteracy would be legally barred from entering the portals of parliament," he added. This explains why "so many are sceptical and inferring that the new Election Act aims at perpetuating the old regime in disguise of democracy."

The draft constitution, which should be ratified next year in a referendum, also "debars a candidate from contesting the elections if he or she is married to a person who is not a Bhutanese by birth".
The new constitution once adopted by the people in next year's referendum would replace the royal decree of 1953 which had conferred absolute power to the king.

The ruling Bhutanese Wangchuck dynasty came to power in December 1907. Current Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced last December that he would step down in favour of his eldest son in 2008, thus paving the way for parliamentary elections that same year.

Under the new constitution, executive powers would be vested in an elected prime minister.

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