Road to Democracy

Since the first General Elections held in 2008, Bhutan has seen three different political parties come to power.

By Gulnaz Nawaz | April 2023

Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom that sits between India and China. It is known for its unique concept of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) as a way to measure national prosperity and for its unique approach to governance and development, which puts the happiness and well-being of its people ahead of economic growth. It is one of the youngest democracies in the world, as it only became a parliamentary democracy in 2008 after being a monarchy. Since the Wangchuck dynasty had ruled Bhutan for more than a century, this was a significant and historic moment in the nation’s history. The first democratic elections in Bhutan were held in 2008, following the enactment of a new constitution in 2007.

Institutionally, Bhutan’s democracy has fared relatively well since its transition in 2006. The country has established a strong and functional government, with the Parliament and the judiciary playing key roles in the country’s governance.

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Bhutan was under the rule of a succession of hereditary kings and queens. Bhutan began to modernize and open up to the outside world at the beginning of the 20th century, but it was still a monarchy until 2008. The fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, indicated in 2006 that Bhutan would change to a constitutional monarchy with an elected government. In 2008, when the constitution was ratified, the nation had its first free elections. All residents above the age of 18 in Bhutan have the right to vote in national elections every five years. There is a system of free and fair elections in which political parties may run and the party that receives the most votes and seats in the National Assembly is the one that governs. Even though Bhutan has only been a democratic country for a short time, it has been praised for its peaceful and easy transition to democracy and for the way it makes decisions by putting a lot of emphasis on community involvement and dialogue.

Another important institutional development in Bhutan’s democracy has been the establishment of an independent Election Commission. The Commission is in charge of setting up and keeping an eye on elections in the country, and it has done a good job of making sure they are free and fair. Bhutan has held three successful general elections since 2008, and each time the transfer of power has been peaceful and without incident.

Civil society organizations and the media have also emerged as important actors in Bhutan’s democracy. Civil society groups like the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy have been very important in spreading democratic values and giving citizens a voice. The media in Bhutan is free and independent, and it has been successful in holding the government accountable.

Bhutan’s political system has several strengths that have helped the country move toward building a strong democracy. One of the key strengths of Bhutan’s democracy is the peaceful transfer of power between political parties. Since the first democratic elections in 2008, Bhutan has seen three different political parties come to power. This shows a commitment to democratic values and a willingness to listen to what the people want.

Another strength of Bhutan’s democracy is the role played by the Parliament in shaping the country’s policies and legislation. The Parliament is made up of two chambers: the National Council and the National Assembly. Both chambers have been involved in running the country and have passed some important laws, such as the Land Act, which strengthened the rights of landowners, and the Civil Society Organizations Act, which gave non-governmental organizations legal status.

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