To lyonpo or not

Almost six months ago, in March, Ngawang left an unrelated comment on “PDP general convention” asking me if the opposition leader should be called a lyonpo. More recently, another reader – I can’t seem to locate the comment – also asked me the same question.

Here’s my answer: it depends.

If the title lyonpo refers to the rank of the orange kabney awarded by His Majesty the King, it’s all right to call the opposition leader lyonpo.

But if the title lyonpo refers to the position of a cabinet minister, the head of a ministry, then it’s not correct to call the opposition leader a lyonpo.

Rank or position. Which is it?

Frankly, I don’t know. We don’t seem to have any official rules defining the many titles of honor we use regularly.

And frankly, to me, it’s not important. I am, after all, just Tshering Tobgay. Plain and simple.


Facebook Comments:


  1. To me it is straight forward. So far, the orange kabney is awarded to a person who has been elevated to the rang of Lyonpo and thus, the person who has the right to don it should be called Lyonpo. If he were not to be called one, the kabney wont be awarded.

    Similarly, the red kabney automatically calls for the wearer to be addressed as Dasho.

    The only difference I know is that are cases where the red kabney has been awarded to none-serving civilians while there has never been an incidence where a civilian has been awarded the orange kabney.

    The award of red kabney has always been associated with a mark of appreciation for a person’s service to the Sa Wa Sum. Thus, anyone can be awarded a red kabney – a Director, a Secretary and even a civilian who has rendered outstanding service to the nation. While, so far, the orange kabney has been associated with the rank of a Lyonpo.

    You cannot call a person wearing the orange kabney anything else but Lyonpo. Our Driglam Namzha requires it. Ofcourse there are those who will tell you that Driglam Namzha is old hat – but I personally believe that it is one of our most valuable living cultures – that which keeps us civil as individuals and courteous as a society.

  2. let me co relate in dzongkha and English. lyonpo means minister(head of ministry) who are awarded orange kabney. In monarchy, orange kabney is awarded only to the the man who is appointed as lyonpo.I mean there is no one other than lynpo who wear orange kabney in our previous system.BUT our country changed from monarchy to constitutional monarchy.Here unlike previous system we have parties(ruling and opposition). Members of ruling parties who head the ministry can be called as lyonpo because they like previous minister hold the post . And the person who heads the opposition party is seemingly not appropraite to call lyonpo. He is an OPPOSITION LEADER who heads all his party members.So i address you as hon DHOG CHOG GOTHRIB and not as LYONPO.

    • Zamtap,
      Then why is the Chief Justice called “Lyonpo”, he too doesn’t head a ministry, he just heads the judiciary. Your logic doesn’t make sense. Anyone conferred the orange scarf by His Majesty is a Lyonpo.

  3. I don’t agree with you Zamtap. The significance of the orange kabney is for Lynpo. For that matter if you are not a lyonpo why would someone wear it or why would the Highest Gauardian of our country award it. Because the bearer of that orange is awareded the KAbney, she/he must be called a lyonpo. If he is not a Lyonpo how can he /she even oppose to anything that the govt.does illegally.


    Hon’ble OL.

    Nice words of wisdom. Tshering Tobgay and that it! I am beginning to like you, now. I hope you really mean it. From the bottom of your heart. I hope it is the real “you” and not a politically correct or worded sentence.

    In essence, whether Lyonpo is a “title” or a “post” really does not matter. The less you (OL) think that way, the better it is. Sure, the orange kabney you don will attract respects. But there are two kinds of respects. And you (as the OL and PDP president) should understand this better than anyone else. And I guess needs no further elaboration.

    Are those respects to Tshering Tobgay or to “Lyonpo” Tshering Tobgay?

    I don’t expect an answer here. But the way you answer (in your heart) will determine your political future.

  5. I would call Dogcho Gothrip as LYONPO any day since he is wearing an orange scarf. BUT if people are not comfortable calling him LYONPO, then we should call him LYONCHEN DOKCHO as he is actually above the cabinet ministers in Rank with the exception of the Prikme Minister. Now this will definitely trigger some debate. I guess Lyonpo is most appropriate mena la.

  6. The word “Minister” originated from a Latin word meaning “servant.” And the word “Lyonpo” originated from Choekey and traditionally it means “servant” of the King. So that means both “Minister” and “Lyonpo” mean “servant.”

    In Bhutan, it seems “Orange scarves” signify “servant number ones” with Prime Minister being the “First Among Equals” servants. Therefore, not delving into political correctness, my personal opinion is that if the Opposition Leader feels at heart he is a “servant” to the King or a servant to the people who elected him, then I would respectfully call him “Lyonpo.” It has nothing to do with the post of “Opposition Leader” which is Dhog Chhok Gothrip, in politically correct terms. So “Orange Scarf” that Tshering Tobgay is donning has nothing to do with the post of “Opposition Leader.” It was granted to Tshering Tobgay by His Majesty the King as a Royal Prerogative for the trust the King has on Tshering Tobgay and for his service that the Nation needs as the first Opposition Leader in our history. There is no guarantee that the future Opposition Leader will be awarded “Orange Scarf.” It is a Royal Prerogative. Tshering Tobgay has earned that trust of the King as one of the servant number ones of the Nation and its people.

    Personally, if I see in someone donning “orange scarf” a true quality of “servant in action” to the King, the Nation, and the People, then I would call him/her “Lyonpo” from the deep core of my heart. But if I don’t see in someone donning “orange scarf” a true quality of “servant in action” to the King, the Nation, and the People, then I would be hesitant to call him/her “Lyonpo” from the deep core of my heart because he/she is not a true “Lyonpo.”

    It’s not what you say or wear that counts, it’s what you do.

    • Thats an interesting revelation… Thank you Invisible. If this be the case The Lyonpos (who are in essence servants) being respected by the Bhutanese people signifies that the Master is respectful, kind and polite with even his/her servant but if the servant in turn respects his/her master is a different story altogether….haha..

    • Dear Invisible,

      Thank you. I learned something new — that two ancient civilizations, of Rome and Tibet, both regarded leaders as servants.

      Remembering that one important quality of leadership is humility, this is a precious knowledge indeed …

      And, yes, it is not what you say or wear that counts. But, I would go a little further than you. It is not what you do either, but how you think about what you do, that really matters. You said it already — “from the deep core of my heart”.

    • Well said, Invisible. Lyonpo or not and Dasho or not, our politicians must work “from the deep core” of their hearts to be servants. I will strive–in body, speech mind–to be a worthy servant to our King, our country and our people.

  7. Zamtap,
    I think next to Lyonchen, Oposition Leader is the most important leader in our country, or for that matter in any other democratic countries.


    Hon’ble OL,

    It also occurs to me to these days that MPs have started demanding respects because of their position while you have remained what you are – pretty much the same. People have started commenting that you are more accessible and approachable. Such comments could augur well for your future.

    So to answer my own question, I would like to respect you as Tshering Tobgay, the person in you and not what you are wearing now or later or before, the cause that you will champion and set of principles that you abide by.

    Let’s me put my own theory here. The more the people call you lyonpo the more you will be and will become detached from the reality. And the less people would be able to identify themselves with you. As a citizen I would like to place my trust (and my one vote) on someone I can identify with and not in people who are flying above my head.

    Keep going Hon’ble OL! One day people might see you as a good alternative. You have a long way to go. But time is on your side, if you remain healthy. And when you get there, please don’t demand your OL to bow down to you or a throne to speak from.

    And to answer Ngawang’s question, no LYONPO please!

  9. Lyonpo is definately the title bestowed to the rank of a Minister. Some people believe that the term Lyonpo is the Bhutanese equivalent of Minister but thats not true. A minister in Dzongkha would be called a Lhengye and Deputy Minsiters are called Lhengye Woma.

    Therefore it is absolutely appropriate to call the Opposition Leader and for that matter the Speaker and NC Chairperson or any person who is bestowed the namza liwang as Lyonpos.

  10. (continuation)

    Ministry= Lhenkhag
    Minister= Lhengye

    Orange Kabney= Lyonpo (and nothing to do with holding a minister portfolio or not)

  11. loynchen is prime minister.and i believe bhutan don’t have two pmime ministers(one ruling and other opposition) neither anywhere in the world it exist. therefore DHOG CHO can’t be called as LYONCHEN.It is more appropriate to call by thus they are OL, NA SPEAKER and NC CHAIRMAN.

  12. Whatever the arguments may be, i would prefer the title be retained (or, is it ‘given’?).

    It would definitely facilitate in adding weight to the views of our hon OL More so in our system, which is largely culture/authority driven.

    And, he makes a lot of sense.

  13. As this is going down in the history, I think it’s truly important to sort the precedence now.

    To lynpo or not is a big Question. Personally, I think you are a wise leader to throw this question back.
    My question is; Were you awarded the Kabney as the Opposition Leader? Will the future Opposition Leaders be awarded Orange Kabneys as well? If not, what color will their Kabneys be? Another Kabney in the making then? Or was it an honorary Orange Kabney awarded to you by His Majesty the King for your excellence in the service of the Tsa Wa Sum?
    Either way, you deserve it. You are a lynpo.

  14. With all due respect to the tradition and culture, the Kabney system does not really bode well with the democratic and developmental endeavor of the nation. I know this is a big statement and i wish i am wrong. The reason being, rank presents itself as a barrier towards open dialogue between people and in our culture where the boss or the person with the higher rank is always right, i just don’t see it as a tool for progress.
    That being said, I must acknowledge you on the way you have been putting your thoughts to public access, and yourself towards open interaction. It is indeed refreshing to see someone, with so much responsibility in safe guarding the democratic proceedings of the nations, walk this path. I have nothing but admiration and respect towards this act.
    To Lyonpo or not, who am i to say?? Like someone commented above, if you continue to do what you are doing, and work towards the dream of the nation, whether you adorn the orange scarf or not, you will have the confidence and support of myself and many others.

  15. LYONPO and LYONMO says


    Great job on bringing out such researched piece. If I may elaborate more for the benefit of sentient beings here.

    The word “minister” has its origin in the ecclesiastical affairs of ancient Rome from the Proto-Indo-European root. The word therefore is still widely used within the Christendom (e.g. ministers in the protestant church).

    As you say it means “servant-attendant-waiter” derived from “ministro/a” which in turn came from latin word “minus” (pronounced meenoos) meaning “less”, “inferior”, “lesser being” in respect to the Almighty. Hence the word per se has no meaning. It should be understood “in relation to” something. Ministers in the Catholic church are taken as “top servants” or “top lesser being” in face of the Pope, who represents St. Peter and Jesus Christ.

    When the word was transplanted to the civil administration, ministers became “top servants” to the Roman emperors. Hence in our case ministers should be “top servants” to the King.

    Lyonpo as a word is of Tibetan origin derived from two words, LYOEN and PO, which respectively, and roughly, means “INTELLIGENT” and “MALE”. When the word was again understood in relation to the Tibetan king, it was conferred to intelligent courtiers making them “Top Intelligent Servant-Advisors”. Over time, however, whoever was conferred that title became very powerful and corrupted and detached from the realities of the Tibetan society. It is believed that the lyonpos in the court of Dalai Lama were terrible.

    Hence the position, while it garners lots of respect, is also very unappealing to the mass. People don’t easily identify themselves with people masquerading orange saffron scarfs and swords.

    So in the democratic setting it could backfire. Another good question, now, is what if we had female minister? We never had one. Do we have to coin LYON MO?

  16. I think irrespective of the type of “kapneys” people wear whether white, red, green, blue or any other colour, what is important is whether people really deserve them. At times it is easier to find people in white “kapneys” displaying the true leadership qualities – charismatic, inspirational, visionary, humble, professional, ethical and so on ….

  17. very important issue, la. In fact i have been pestering CBS people to answer me some, and especially comment on the requirement of standardisation, because like it or not, rank and honour are important, and we need to have some kind of standard. Right now, we call some people with orange kabney lyonpo and some we dont. Meanwhile, we also have people who have been ministers in the past, and retain their orange scarves, but its not clear if we are to also address them as lyonpo. Newspapers have set precedence, by addressing some of the former ministers without the title. Also, if it is the personb with the orange scarf who is to be called lyonpo, then we will soon have a whole host of lyonpos in the country, especially if our cabinet ministers retain their kabneys after their tenure. So this is something that need to be clarified. Honorifics are after all, important, they signify achievements of eminent persons.

  18. LYOENMO? No way – a female Lyonpo will be known as Lyoenpo as well. We also never had female Dashos in the past – but in recent times red scarf has been conferred on a few of them – and we call them Dashos – and not Dashomo.

  19. By the way, calling a female Lyoenpo “Lyoenmo” will be misconstrued as gender discremination against women 🙂

    • LYONPO and LYONMO says

      I was going by the Dzongkha spelling which refers to “po” as gender specific like “gyalpo”. Whereas Dasho is a gender insensitive word meaning the “best of best”.

      That deduces me to propose “Lhengye” which is a gender insensitive word and is Bhutanese unlike “lyonpo”.

  20. pema tshering says

    In the traditional monarchichal society, these tiltle were used. Now with the introduction of democracy, we need to develop our own titles soothing the titles and functions of the persons. All the candidates came out as Dem-ngos to be appointed as Thue-mis, and rightfully, they are all now referred to as Choethey chengi Thuemi. Therefore, the following titles may be suggested and applied for our MPs:

    1. Prime Minister can be called as Zhungchong Thuemi Gom, or Zhungchong Thuemi Chichhab, as he was elected by the people and not appointed by the King,
    2. Opposition Leader as Dhogchok Thuemi Gom, or Dhogchok Chichhab.
    3. Speaker as Tshogpoen,
    4. NC Chairman as Tshogdey Thuemi Gom,
    5. MP as Thuemi.
    6. CJ as Drangpoen Gom, or Drangpoen Chichhab,
    7. Chief Election Commissioner as Tsagthu Lhentshog Gom/Chichhab,
    8. ACC Chief as Ngenleg Kakdam Gom/Chichhab.

    It is so simple, and we need no male/female titles, you see.

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