Manmohan Singh to address Bhutan’s new parliament

May 11th, 2008 - 6:24 pm ICT by admin  

By Pranay Sharma
New Delhi, May 11 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address a joint session of the newly constituted Bhutanese parliament during his visit to the country May 16. He will be the first international leader to be given this honour. “The honour given to the prime minister by the Bhutanese government and its people shows the excellent relationship the two countries enjoy,” an external affairs ministry official told IANS.

Singh’s visit will coincide with the 50th anniversary of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Bhutan. Nehru’s visit in 1958 was important in laying the groundwork for a deeper engagement between “independent India” and Bhutan. In subsequent years the relations between the two sides only got stronger and Bhutan is today considered as one of India’s “closest ally.”

Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit, beginning May 16, will give the two sides an opportunity to interact with each other at the highest level, especially since Bhutan took its first major step towards democracy. The first elections to the country were held on March 24 this year in which 80 per cent of the 320,000 registered voters cast their votes.

Singh will hold talks with the previous king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and his son and the present monarch, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. He will also have extensive discussions with his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigne Thnley, whose Druk Phensuem Tshogpa (DPT) party had won 45 of the 47 seats in the last election. The People’s Democratic Party, which won only two seats, will now play the role of the opposition in the Bhutanese parliament.

During his stay in Bhutan, Singh will also dedicate the 1020 MW Tala power project to the Bhutanese people and lay the foundation stone of another hydroelectric project with a capacity of 1095 MW at Punatsangchu.

Bhutan has one of the strongest economies in South Asia and for the past two decades it has shown a steady GDP growth of seven per cent every year. Most of its revenue comes from export of hydro-power to India. A number of infrastructure development projects in Bhutan have also been undertaken by India, which includes building of roads in the mountainous nation of 700,000 people.

The friendship treaty signed between the two sides in 1949, and which was extended last year, forms the bedrock of bilateral relations. But now a number of developments that include the situation in Nepal following the Maoist victory in the constituent assembly elections and developments in China, in the wake Tibetan protests, are likely to be the focus of discussion between the Indian prime minister and his Bhutanese hosts.

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