Exit monarchy, but long live the king in Bhutan

March 26th, 2008 - 3:49 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Thimphu, March 26 (IANS) Bhutan’s century old monarchy may be on the way out, but the 28-year-old king will continue to wield considerable influence in shaping his Himalayan nation’s future policies if the results of the historic parliamentary election this week are any guide. Unwavering allegiance to the institution of monarchy, despite the revolutionary changes towards parliamentary democracy that it brought about, and total faith in the king’s policies could be among the main reasons for the landslide win of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) in the elections.

A majority of the Bhutanese were in any case apprehensive of what democracy could bring to the tranquil Himalayan nation of 700,000 people - who measure their well-being against the index of Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than the universal Gross National Product (GNP) - particularly considering that so-called people’s power was not really enviable if the prevailing situation in the neighbourhood, mainly in Bangladesh and Nepal, were any indication.

Moreover, the Bhutanese had nothing much to complain against the rule of their benevolent monarchs during the past 100 years. Everything was going fine, after all. This was the mood among the majority of Bhutan’s 318,465 voters as the predominantly Buddhist nation prepared to bid farewell to absolute monarchy and held its election Monday.

The DPT or the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party perhaps gauged the mood of the people, particularly their reverence for the royals, and pledged, more strongly than its lone rival the People’s Democratic party (PDP), to translate the king’s vision into a reality.

“In Pursuit of Gross National Happiness, growth with equity and justice, we offer our unwavering allegiance to the sacred institution of monarchy, the life-force of our nation and dedicate ourselves to realising the vision of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo (king), His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, for a united, progressive and happy country,” the DPT said in its election manifesto.

It added: “We shall be guided by His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in our pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH) through a true and vibrant democracy…”

The GNH has been the philosophy fine-tuned by the former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck to strike a balance between material progress and spiritual growth of his subjects.

It would be wrong to say or conclude that the PDP did not promise to tread on the path of the kings who have shaped the destiny of this landlocked nation. With the language used by the DPT in its manifesto, it appeared as if this party was more close to the vision of the Bhutanese royalty than the PDP.

The two parties vied with each other to be seen as more close to the royals or the vision of the royals. To that extent, it was thought that the contest in the polls for the 47-member National Assembly was going to be a tough one. That was not to be.

The DPT won 44 of the 47 seats, indicating that the people voted it to power to lead Bhutan primarily to continue with the policies of the kings. The manner in which the earlier king, Jigme Singhye Wangchuck, brought about Bhutan’s transformation, taking it on the path to modernity without compromising on the traditional values, caught the imagination of the people.

And his initiative, in 2001, to bring about an end to monarchy by changing to a parliamentary form of government was viewed with remorse by his subjects. They wanted him to go on. However, they had faith in his vision and agreed to go along the path of democracy.

The DPT’s victory could actually be seen as a victory of the royals. Therefore, the king, who can now be impeached by a two-thirds majority in parliament, will continue to wield considerable influence in shaping the nation’s future policies. The king, after all, can do no wrong!

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