Reforming the Bhutanese democracy

Published on Feb 05 2011 // Opinion
By Tika Lamitare

The history has always been clear and transparent to us. We learnt about how the America’s founding fathers fought against the imperialistic British Empire for independence, freedom and participatory democracy. The tireless effort of those founding fathers established participatory democracy in America. We grew up learning the history of Indian independence: Mahatma Gandhi’s relentless effort transformed British Empire into Indian land. We are also aware with Dr. Martin Luther King’s and Nelson Mandela’s roles in ending segregation in America and South Africa.

Not only these, we have seen how people’s demand can overthrow the 239-years old Nepalese king dynasty. Out thrown Nepalese king Gyanendra who was considered to be a form of God, had nothing to do when the people demanded relief from his tyranny. Today, the Egyptians are demanding the end of tyranny and authoritarianism. The embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the nation for 30 years, is on the way to give power to the people. Now, the protests of Egyptians make clear that democracy should always be transparent and participatory. The Egyptians protest makes clear that democracy is worthless if it isn’t people’s democracy.

These examples make clear that no leader in the world is blessed and sent by the God to be a ruler. No leaders did, do, and will have the right to establish his own legitimacy for the existence of his monarchy or administration. If the people want a ruler to stop his governance, then regardless of the contribution by that leader, there is no other option than submitting the power to the people. In other words, these examples are solely focused on how people’s demand can transform an authoritarian regime into a system of people’s democracy.

Let’s think for a second. We were born in Bhutan and spent rest of our lives in Bhutanese refugee camps. We were prevented from enjoying our own desire of freedom. If history stands for truth, then we have seen the tears of Bhutanese men and women whose lands, houses were controlled by the Bhutanese government. If tears speak the truth, then it is known to us how many Bhutanese girls were sexually assaulted and killed during the ‘90s movement. If our forefathers are a representation of truth, then it is no lie to say the government of Bhutan made us refugee for the interest of Bhutanese king, Jigmey Signey Wangchuk and his family.

Despite the fact that Bhutan is our country, we do not even have the right to live there. What mistake did we commit? Did we ever ask to overthrow the king? Does not my father have the right to live in a place house where he was born, where he farmed and where he grew up?

Bhutan is our country and in eighteen years of our refugee life, we always did celebrate December 17th as our National Day. We have called ourselves Bhutanese and since the beginning of our refugee schooling; we had studied how Ugyen Wangchuk became the first king of Bhutan. Every morning in school, we stood unilaterally and sang the Bhutanese National Anthem, which further improved our allegiance to the Bhutanese flag.

Despite having all this, we don’t still have the right to be repatriated to Bhutan for the search of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Neither can we spend rest of our lives in Bhutan nor are we eligible to select our political leaders. Neither are we able to write our own constitution nor are we able to amend the present constitution, which was drafted to assure the world that Bhutan is in favor of democracy. Neither are we able to purpose an establishment of participatory democracy nor is our right mentioned in the constitution.

We are a subject of constitutional restriction despite being Bhutanese national and having love with our country. This adds power to the king, but we are deprived from enjoying our basic rights. We need that Bhutan, which respects the right of every citizen. We need that constitution which assures our religious and political rights. We need those leaders, who won’t serve as a close door for the king, but an open door for the people. We need that constitution, which encourages all of its citizens to practice their own religions and also encourages the citizens to rally against the government if needed. We need that democracy which allows us to sign the petition when we find the government overruling the interests of the people. We need that parliament which ensures the credibility of government by checking and balancing its power. We should have the right to draft a constitution which will speak in making Bhutan a secular country. If this happens, Bhutan will never judge its citizens based on what the religions they follow or what language they speak. This democracy will be people’s democracy: transparent, participatory and influential.

What we wanted was democracy and freedom and it was not our privilege to demand these, but it was our birthrights. We were prevented from having our democratic rights, but we no longer can afford to be discriminated based on what is our religion and what language we speak. Right to religion is not what our king should give, but the king should encourage to practice. Bhutanese king has discriminated us and it is a real need to stand and speak. It is also a real need to furnish the hopes of our forefathers upon whose contribution is the foundation of Bhutan based on.

Up to now, Bhutanese kings were focused on making themselves powerful and authoritarian, but now the time has come for all of the Bhutanese to speak.

Till now, we were limited in learning the need of democracy as an ultimate solution to people’s rule, but the time has signaled us to prove that still the whole world believes in the Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. The braved Nepalese and Egyptians taught us to stand and speak when someone prevails over the people’s interests. We have to prove that we, the Bhutanese, who were denied to live up to our democratic practices, are overwhelmingly enthusiastic to stop the oppression of the Bhutanese government. We have the chance to prove that the Bhutanese people still live up to the courage of Mashur Cheetri, Sha Badhur sewa and other Bhutanese martyrs. But, it is easy to defend their courage in words, but it is challenging to defend their courage by actions.

We have to be united and speak where we can. Changing Bhutan does not only mean the Bhutanese people have constitutional rights to practice their democracy, but also adds a new line in the history of freedom and democracy. Let us feel that we are people and it is not privilege to live in Bhutan, but it is our natural right to live in Bhutan by exercising our democratic rights and living up to the American values of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.