Thimphu, December 28:

The transition from a 100-year-old monarchy to democracy in Bhutan would begin on December 30 with voting for the National Council, or upper house, which will make up the first phase of parliamentary elections.

An estimated 300,000 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the Himalayan kingdom of 700,000 people to elect 20 members to the National Council.

The king would nominate five additional members to the council.

“The process of parliamentary democracy has begun and we are all ready to conduct the polls,” said Kunzang Wangdi, Bhutan’s chief election commissioner. Polls to the National Assembly or the lower house are scheduled for February 2008. Bhutan’s first elected prime minister will be from among the National Assembly members.

Candidates contesting the National Council do not belong to any political party unlike the National Assembly where elections are going to be fought among different political parties. The National Assembly will have 75 members.

But with no candidates filing their nominations in five districts, elections would be held only in

15 districts on Monday. A total of 48 candidates are in the fray.

Election observers from India, the US, and Australia would be monitoring the polls and a five-member Thimphu-based UNDP team will represent the UN as poll observers.

Tight security measures have been adopted to ensure free and fair polls although the Bhutanese authorities have expressed fear over anti-India militants trying to sabotage the elections.

Apart from Bhutan police, Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) soldiers have been already deployed in strength for the elections.