Bhutan’s future in democracy

Published on Oct 27 2009 // Opinion
By I. P. Adhikari & Vidhyapati Mishra

A year after Bhutan entered into party politics with a fabricated form of democratic system, it has organized the first conference talking democracy in Asia sphere.

For decades, Bhutan resisted democracy in the name of preserving culture and religious unity. In many instances, Bhutan said it cannot tolerate religious and cultural diversity, which is fundamentally an opposed idea to the basic theory and principles of democracy.

Recent debate on democracy is an irony in itself that Bhutan talks of strengthening democracy in Asia when it itself has no democratic culture and practice. But in other corner, it is a symbolic positivism for Bhutan to strengthen its democratic culture that is taking root very recently and is immature enough.

Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley in a meeting with two German scholars in Thimphu recently admitted that Bhutan has not encompassed a complete democratic structure even after transforming from absolute monarchy to parliamentary politics. The partial change in the form of government was a result of the continued efforts being made from exile, with support and solidarity from international community, for the last two decades and more. Had there been no forces operating from exile (Bhutanese taking asylum in Nepal and India), Bhutan would not have budged an inch for democratization. And thus is the need Bhutan correctly consolidates different views from various ethnic groups, being a multi-ethnic country, for the progress of democracy.

Bhutan has a history of crushing democratic voices. The calls for freedom and democratic system in early 1950s and early 1990s were mercilessly subdued yet this country has finally lost its battle to resisting establishment of democratic government and allowing multi party politics. The widening scope of democracy after the fall of Berlin wall and end of communist USSR was sure to invade this tiny kingdom as well. Had Bhutan taken its step to promote people’s participation in governance earlier, it would have benefited better.

Demands for human rights and democracy in early 1990s were termed acts of treason and those supporting the idea were tagged ‘anti nationals’. Two decades later, the government has realized its mistake for not letting democracy flourish on time but haven’t corrected them. Now, it is time that Bhutan shifts its mindset from terrorism to humanitarianism. Bhutan no more can remain incognito to its misrule era.

The security forces and the bureaucracy was given absolute power to adapt any means to torture, discriminate, harass, threaten and mistreat southern Bhutanese. The imposed practice of the civil and army officers including those of the bureaucracy take the privilege offered by the village heads in accordance to the local imposed traditions prevailing in the country.

Today, Bhutan has changed its politics and the world is looking at it closely. At par with this, Bhutan needs to change its policies to fit democracy. The bureaucracy and security along with political leadership require intensive intuition on democratic values and human rights.

(This is part of the paper presented at the one day conference “Bhutan Today – Challenges of Participatory Democracy” organized by Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society (IBFS) in New Delhi on October 23, 2003. Read full paper here.)