Royal Democracy in Bhutan: Steps Ahead Against the Current

Published on Apr 16 2009 // Commentary
By Govinda Rizal

A year of democratic practices in Bhutan has brought numerous reforms and left almost no stones unturned to demystify the suspicion of throne-gifted democracy. To begin with, the election of 20 members for the upper house, later, five deputed by the monarch, formally lifted the ban on the word ‘democracy”. Then, the royal cabinet divided into three factions, two to lead political parties and the third to continue as interim government for the present and metamorphosis into a third party from the subsequent elections. The politically colored two parties PDP and DPT, came right to the people’s level seeking vote and support. The election commission, determined to act on big and small rule breaks, was overtly smart to generate enough power for itself.

The permitted parties fought less; in fact, they had nothing to prove superior over the other party. The manifestoes emerged as two copies prepared by a single drafter. Voters had the opulence of two sources for the same content. Both the manifestoes came from the Gross National Happiness Commission; institutionalize to praise the former monarch in a royal way. As a body has two eyes, two hands, two legs and one mouth, the royal decreed democracy had two parties, with different faces, leaders and supporters but one voice: Gross National Happiness (GNH). The winning or loosing depended not much on the political food of thought but on the buttered lips of candidates and their supporters.

In the name of education for democracy, people were taught to press buttons of voting machines and election speeches focused on the characteristics of a bad party. Election promises read out were from the draft of the up-coming five-year development plan, prepared by the cabinet in unison before the virtual split.

The  first radical reform by the reincarnated government took in its infancy of democratic  era was the hike in salary of the statesmen, with a big expectation that their action would be applauded, praised and sang for months and years, as it used be in  their earlier epoch.  The story ended the next day of the implementation, apparently signifying that the change has come.

A year of democratic era saw a rapid increase in the number of people seeking judicial interference. The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), a bespoke body to crucify the defaulters and corrupts, reached beyond capital to districts and development centers, mines and construction sites. The ACC’s role is not just bringing defaulters to the book of justice but also underscoring the judicial and legal loopholes that have existed for abuse.

On one hand, the problem of unemployment has soared up to an indestructible height. No large-scale enterprises are in plan to accommodate the fresh graduates and school dropouts. On the other hand, there is such a dearth of skilled human resources particularly of doctors, nurses, teachers and accountants that the government has no luxury of choice, either to hire workers from abroad or to close its eyes. This is the direct consequences of the erstwhile government’s faulty education system and its desperate attempt to hide the then existing problems.

Freedom of expression has expanded, at least in the parliament, however, since most of the elected parliamentarians are yet to free themselves from the trauma of the suppressed bureaucratic background they hail from, accustomed to stoop before senior- make the junior bow, are unable to utilize even the accessible freedom.

There is a sharp improvement in the quantity and the content of the print and online media. Unlike in the past when the reporter had to get news and consent from the related department heads, secretaries and ministers, the democratic era journalists have audaciously gone to villages, deprived areas, uncovered the truth and published the facts. As expected the Bhutanese media has taken a leap forward and are successful as the tower lights of democracy.  Nevertheless, they are not free from threat and insecurity.

The government has availed timely balm of compensation to the victims of natural calamities. However, there is little doubt that any other party in the government would have done no less. While the government has no material proof to boast of achievement of pertinently observed development, it has been showing its presence. The runway for domestic air services are materialized, wires for electricity supply are extended to many villages, at least dozen or one sixth of the schools closed in the southern districts were resurrected and the issue of security clearance and no objection certificate (NOC) created turmoil in the parliament but sadly had a narrow escape. The government has the mandate for four more years to either bring in airplanes on the runway, supply current through the wires, let children become students in the deprived areas, and revoke the tribulations of NOC, or doze off the period and invite a bull-dozer in the next term.

The most soothing music in the ears of the cronies of the erstwhile autocrats is to hear the news of Bhutanese in exile resettling in the developed nations. For the time being, the problem seems closer to an end. However, will the government continue happy go lucky hiding the crimes against humanity of the erstwhile government forever, remains a question to the younger generation. The government to sanctify itself must form a commission to look into the problem termed by the former monarch as ‘ngolop uprising in the south’ bring the defaulters to the book of justice and free the innocent from the prolonged punishments. However, as most of the defaulters own supreme command in the government, it is not going to materialize at least in this term. Although the DPT government characterizes old stocks in new coop, there ought to be no dearth of revolutionary vision to meet the transition and take better advantage, as it houses and commands the best brains of the nation.

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