Democracy in Bhutan

Bhutan, the land of dragon, is now no more a kingdom, after its first parliamentary elections in March 2008. These elections marked a major step in Bhutan’s 100 years over transition to a democratic and constitutional monarchy. People’s Democratic Party [PDP] and Druk Pnuensum Tshogpa [DPT] were the only parties fighting the polls held on a bi-party system. PDP was led by Sangay Ngedup and DPT by headed by Jigmey Thinley. These two parties vied with each other in being more loyal than the king. Not surprisingly, the runaway winner in the elections was DPT. The new government under Jigmey Thinley would do no more than continue the policies laid down by the kings over the years. The Himalayan Kingdom has done equally well in raising per capita income and preserving its environment. The king will continue to wield wide influence although not the supreme power now.

The country will have a bicameral legislature, the 25 member upper house is called national council – 20 members are elected and 5 are appointed by the king. The lower house called national assembly has strength of 47members, elected for 5years on basis of universal adult suffrage. The royal family and religious leaders do not exercise their franchise as they are to remain above politics. Democracy in Bhutan is vision of monarch. The fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk, initiated the democratic process 25years ago with the phased devolution of powers from the center to the district and block levels in 1998 from the throne to elected cabinet.

Many Bhutanese have more faith in the sagacity of their king than in the accountability of their untried political parties. However, it is to the credit of the monarchy in Bhutan which has ensured smooth transition to democracy without any palpable pressure from force inside or outside their country.

Bhutan’s role of ethnic cleansing has been its argument that the issue is a bilateral problem between Nepal and Bhutan. A satisfactory solution of the Bhutanese refugee problem is in extricably linked to India’s foreign policy. During the last 15years, echoing Bhutan, India has insisted that the refugee problem was and remains a purely bilateral problem between Nepal and Bhutan. India has compelling security reasons to consider a change of tack. It’s time India put pressure on Bhutan to allow refugees to return home in safety and with dignity and end discrimination against its ethnic Nepali citizens.

Thus, the transition to democracy in Bhutan is a victory for the remarkable kings, the state, private institutions, the Bhutanese people and finally for the idea of democracy itself.

Romila Chitturi

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