Bhutanese apprehensive about democracy

March 21st, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Gelephu (Southern Bhutan), March 21 (IANS) Ahead of a historic election Monday that will end 100 years of monarchy, the people of Bhutan appear to be apprehensive about their future under parliamentary democracy. “It is hard to imagine that we are about to bid farewell to monarchy. After all, our revered kings ruled Bhutan rather well all these years but may be we need to move on,” said Tenzing Wangdi, a government official.

The growing cynicism about the historic shift to a parliamentary form of government in the Himalayan kingdom is due to the image problem in Bhutan’s democratic neighbourhood in South Asia.

India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal are besieged with political instability, with elections often marred by violence.

“When we look at our neighbourhood, we feel uncomfortable. But we have trust in our leaders and our people,” added Ugwen Tshering, a businessman.

Bhutan has been a monarchy since 1907. Its fourth ruler, Jigme Singhye Wangchuck, put the nation on the road to democracy in the late 90s.

This led to the unveiling in 2004 of a 34-point constitution that provided for two Houses of Parliament, the National Council (Upper House) with 25 members and the National Assembly (lower house) with 75 members.

King Wangchuck abdicated in favour of his son Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck in December 2006 to enable the new king to oversee Bhutan’s transition to democracy.

The king, who will be the head of state after Monday’s election that will elect a new government, will still have extensive powers. But the parliament will have the power to impeach the king by a two-thirds majority.

Democracy “is a path to good governance. We are looking for a way to establish a government that can continue to work for the well being of the people. The goal is not to find prime ministers and politicians but to find leaders who will serve the people,” Bhutan’s state-run newspaper ‘Kuensel’ said in an editorial.

Still, everyone tend to look towards the king for reassurance.

“We have our safety net… His Majesty King Jigme Khesar is at the centre of the (democratisation) process, symbolising the stability of our experiment,” the ‘Kuensel’ said.

The goodwill that the institution of kingship commands in Bhutan is bound to make the task of the country’s fledgling politicians all the more difficult.

“The political parties will always be under pressure, forced to live up to the people’s expectations because they had a very good experience with monarchy,” noted Karma Chopel, a tourism official.

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