Few people know Bhutan is a country and fewer know where it is located.
With a population of about 725,296 persons and area stretching on 46,500 square kilometers, Bhutan is about the size of Switzerland, landlocked between China and India.
Until recently, the tiny country was tucked away in total isolation from the rest of the world; Before 1960’s it had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity.
Access to TV and Internet was only granted in 1999.
The country’s capital, Thimpu, has no traffic lights until today. In fact when traffic lights were installed the people objected and the city reverted back to the use of the traffic police.
Bhutanese politics are also somehow unique to the country. In 1907 the hereditary monarchy was established in Bhutan. In 2005, then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, age 50, surprised his country by announcing his decision to abdicate the throne in his son’s favor, and transform the country into a constitutional monarchy.
Resulting in this announcement, a constitution was presented in 2005, which was enacted on July 2008.
Few months later 28 year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned as the new King.
The constitution defines a bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Council (upper house) and the National Assembly (lower house).
The National Council contains 25 seats: 25 members, 20 directly elected in the district, 5 appointed by the King. Members and candidates of the National Council are prohibited from holding any political party affiliation.
The lowers house, the National Assembly, was composed of 47 seats following the 2008 elections; however it can accommodate a maximum number of 55 seats.
Members of the lower house are directly elected by the citizens of the constituencies within each district. Each constituency is represented by one National Assembly member.
Both National Council and National Assembly meet at least twice a year.
Between December 2007 and March 2008 Bhutan, the world’s youngest democracy, held its first Parliamentary elections. In early 2007, I was in Bhutan for an official visit of the EP delegation for relations with South Asia, to observe the country’s preparation for its first elections.
The 2008 parliamentary elections saw only two parties, the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party and the People’s Democratic Party competing for seats in the Parliament.
These were won by the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party with 67.3% of the votes, which gave it a majority of 45 seats in the National Assembly.
This year Bhutan is in the process of holding its second national elections. This time there are four parties competing for seats in the parliament.
Elections to the upper house were held on 23 April. On 31st May the first round of elections were held for the lower house. The second and final round will take place on 13 July, and it will determine the winners who will form the government.
While there are clear improvements in the election process, as a young democracy, Bhutan is still facing the task of creating a democratic culture, with the active engagement, participation and representation of its citizens.
Achieving this goal will ultimately give Bhutanese leaders greater legitimacy to deal more efficiently with some of the country’s most urgent challenges. High literacy rates, low life expectancy, poverty and refugees are only few examples
After observing the life in Bhutan, I have no doubt the country is fit to the task.
Greetings from the European Parliament,
Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg