News @ AsiaOne

Bhutan 'uncertain' about democracy: PM

"I consider Bhutan to not yet be a democracy, but an emerging democracy:PM -AFP

Wed, Aug 24, 2011

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.

Thinley's Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) or Bhutan United Party swept the ballot, winning 45 of the 47 seats in the new National Assembly. The People's Democratic Party won only two seats.

Government insiders and analysts admit Bhutan is still adapting to democracy, but they point to a vibrant independent media and a vocal opposition leader in Tshering Tobgay as signs of healthy development.

In his first address to the nation after his party's landslide victory, Thinley had made it clear that he expected the king to play a more influential role than might be acceptable from other constitutional monarchs.

The DPT can "look to the future with confidence and knowledge that we will have (the king's) guidance and wisdom," he said at the time. The next general election is scheduled for 2013.

After centuries of self-imposed isolation, Bhutan's opening to the outside world is still in its infancy.

Fiercely protective of the indigenous Buddhist culture of the majority Drukpa people, the monarchy tentatively opened the kingdom to outsiders in the 1970s and tourism - although now a major foreign revenue earner - remains highly restricted.

Before the Wangchuck dynasty came to power in 1907, the country was divided up into countless local fiefdoms. It had no proper roads, telephones or currency until the 1960s, and only allowed television in 1999.

Copyright ©2011 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.
Privacy Statement Conditions of Access Advertise