Bhutan 'uncertain' about democracy: PM

THIMPHU, Bhutan - Bhutan's prime minister believes his country's experiment with democracy remains a fragile work-in-progress, and admits many Bhutanese would still look to the monarchy in a time of crisis.

"Democracy is new to Bhutan. What it will bring to the country and how it evolves is something that we are uncertain about," Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley told AFP in an interview this week.

The isolated Himalayan nation made a model transition from a century of absolute rule by the monarchy when the father of the current king instigated a program of democratic reforms that led to the first general elections in 2008.

The change ushered in voting, a free press and a new constitution, with powers devolved to parliament and the cabinet while the king stepped back to serve as a symbolic head of state.

The royal family remains enormously popular and respected, and the country is currently busy preparing for the marriage of the current monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 31.

"I consider Bhutan to not yet be a democracy, but an emerging democracy.

The signs that we see around the world, the experiences of many developing countries that are supposedly democracies, give cause for worry," Thinley said.

"If all things go well, I imagine there would be less reason and cause for the king to be concerned.

"But if instability were to develop, if democracy does not function the way it is intended to, then I would imagine that the people will look up to the king to provide the remedies," he said in his office in the capital Thimphu.

Although independent monitors gave their seal of approval to the 2008 elections, which witnessed a near 80 percent turnout, only two parties - both staunchly royalist - contested the polls.

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