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Bhutan begins election counting
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Voting in Bhutan has closed and counting started on Monday evening after a historic general election for the Himalayan nation's first democratic government, ending a century of royal rule by the revered Wangchuk dynasty, according to the NDTV.

Turnout was high with nearly 61 percent of the 318,000 eligible voters to cast their ballots. Long lines of voters could be seen in the Bhutanese capital city of Thimphu.

Polling stations were closed at 5 P.M. local time and final official results will be declared on Tuesday in the country, which is sandwiched between India and China and has been called a "Himalayan Eden" because of its breathtaking mountain scenery and clean air.

The election was contested by two parties with similar promisesto boost growth and develop roads and other infrastructure, and to stick by the royal concept of prioritizing "Gross National Happiness" rather than GDP.

Sangay Ngedup, head of the People's Democratic Party, who was a former two-time Prime Minister in the old royal government and is the brother of the four sisters and queens who are married to former king Jigme Singye Wangchuk while Jigmi Thinley, leader of the Bhutan United Party was also a former Prime Minister of the country.

Only university graduates have been allowed to stand for the 47 seats in the new National Assembly, or lower house, who will be chosen from either the People's Democratic Party or the Bhutan United Party.

The Oxford-educated King Jigme Khesar Namgyel is expected to retain a strong influence over how the country is run even after the assembly is elected.

"This election is not about choosing a winner from among two candidates or two parties. This election and the democracy that we will build are the result of the sacrifice and hard work of generations of Bhutanese people," the king said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 25, 2008)

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