THIMPHU - Bhutan’s shift from absolute monarchy to the world’s newest democracy is creating unprecedented rifts as people row over which party to vote for in next week’s elections, observers say.
The isolated Buddhist kingdom, perched in the Himalayas between India and China, has long stressed community bonding, but divisions ahead of the elections are creating serious problems, they say.
Political tempers are running so high “people aren’t talking to each other” even though there are no major ideological differences between the two major parties competing for power, said Tashi Dorji, editor of Bhutan Observer.
“It’s happening throughout the country,” Dorji said in an interview in the capital Thimpu.
Nearly 70 percent of the population of under 700,000 live in remote mountain villages and the two main parties competing to form Bhutan’s first elected government are in a tight race.
A family of six fled their house after one son threatened to burn down the house in a drunken rage if they did not support the party of his choice, the weekly Bhutan Observer reported.
In another sign of disharmony, a nephew and an uncle are pitted against each other, dividing the village where they live into two camps.
Such discord is unfamiliar in insular Bhutan, whose famous “gross national happiness” index takes precedence over gross national product (GNP).
The country is staging multi-party elections for a lower house, ending rule by the hugely popular King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, whose family has governed Bhutan for a century.