The Himalayan state of Bhutan, which borders Tibet, moved further towards democracy yesterday with the preparation of the first draft of the constitution – a process started by the Royalty of Bhutan to give more powers to the Bhutanese parliament and to convert the kingdom to a constitutional monarchy.
The constitution bestows the people of Bhutan with the right to elect two houses of parliament, whose members would be empowered to impeach the monarch by a two-thirds vote.
Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom which has important historical, cultural, and religious ties to Tibet, does not have a written constitution so far and its monarchy goes back to the days of the British Raj, when Jigme’s great-grandfather was anointed king by London.
Bhutan has been making slow but steady progress towards democracy since 2001, unlike its neighbour Nepal, where King Gyanendra seized power this year and sacked the elected government.
Randeep Ramesh said in The Guardian today: “Many say the adoption of democracy signifies that the traditional hermit kingdoms of the Himalayas are quickly waking up to the pressures of the modern world. The king has opened the country to tourists, and he allowed television in the late 1990s. It got its first internet cafe in 2001.”
The focal point of the debate now is whether Bhutan should have multi-party democracy or not. BBC Online reported Sonam Tobgye, Chief Justice of the Bhutanese Supreme Court and chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee as saying: “This is the crux of the problem. We must know whether we are ready for multi-party democracy or not. The pros and cons have to be weighed very carefully.”
The BBC Online report also referred to tens of thousands of Nepalese forced out of Bhutan and currently living in refugee camps in Nepal, saying that if elections occur before they are repatriated, their names would not be on the electoral rolls and they would therefore run the risk of being non-citizens. “How can there be genuine democracy if they exclude thousands of our people who were forcibly ousted from the kingdom?” asked Bhutanese refugee leader Ratan Gazmere.