Democratic parties

Bhutan joined the world in celebrating International Democracy Day over the weekend. In Thimphu, a panel discussion was held to promote a better understanding of democracy, and to talk about why it is especially important for citizens to enjoy their rights but also to fulfill their responsibilities in a young democratic country.

There’s no doubt that such discussions are important. They will go a long way in educating our people; in building strong foundations for our democracy; and in making sure that, through democracy, the promises of peace, liberty and prosperity are fulfilled. So we must have more of these discussions.

But whenever we talk about democracy, one important aspect of it does not get much attention: political parties, and, in particular, the fact that they may not themselves be run democratically. This is strange. Political parties exist for and because of democracy. Yet, the parties themselves often lack a culture of democracy. Political parties contest elections and, through the democratic process, acquire political power to influence public policy. Yet, powers within parties are often distributed and exercised without regard to even the most basic of democratic principles.

Our democracy is young. So we must nurture it. We must strengthen every one of its instruments, from majority rule and minority rights to the separation of powers, checks and balances, and the rule of law. And yes, we must understand our rights and responsibilities.

But we must also demand that political parties themselves are democratic. We must insist that they too respect and abide by democratic principles when, for example, they select their leaders and candidates, or when they determine their policies, or, for that matter, when they run all their other affairs.

For the long-term success of democracy it is crucial that political parties themselves practice democracy. After all, if political parties are themselves not democratic, how can we expect them to strengthen and spread the ideals of democracy? How can we expect them to deliver the promises of democracy?

Answering Sonam


Sonam’s question generated a good deal of discussions. And, most of you argued that we, elected officials – ministers and MPs alike – should not wear our kabneys and patangs after completing our terms in office.

Similarly, almost all of you who took the poll that asked, “Should elected MPs and ministers continue to wear their “kabneys” after their terms in office?” voted against the idea. A resounding 220 of you said “NO”; only 18 said “YES”.

I agree with the majority. But should we, in fact, take it still further? Should we do away with colour-coded kabneys and patangs completely for our elected officials, even while they are serving their terms in office?

I think so.

The kabney and patang denote rank – they represent power and authority. And they are incongruous in a democracy, a system of government that is based on the important idea that all people are equal. We cannot be true to the principles of democracy and ideals of our Constitution, if the very people that we elect continue to engage in visual displays of power and privilege.

Some of you will argue that we should continue using the kabney and patang as they are part and parcel of our rich cultural heritage. I agree. And, in keeping with our culture and traditions, only His Majesty the King should award such decorations; they shouldn’t be seen as automatic perks for elected MPs and ministers.

When did we know?


HM always knew

Last week, Bhutan successfully hosted the first Regional Conference on Deepening and Sustaining Democracy in Asia. The Centre for Bhutan Studies and UNDP Bhutan organized the event together.

That Bhutan, the world’s youngest democracy, led a major international discussion on deepening democratic values is commendable. It shows how much we’ve matured, politically, since the introduction of parliamentary democracy in our country barely 18 months ago. It also shows how serious we are about our new form of governance.

Looking back, it is clear that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo had carefully prepared us, his people, for democracy. Most of us now agree that the process started with the establishment of elected local governments – at the dzongkhag level in 1981 and, a decade later, at the gewogs.  Then, in 1998, His Majesty devolved executive powers to an elected council of ministers. And in 2001, he commanded the drafting of our constitution. More importantly, and in countless occasions throughout his golden reign, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo consistently commanded that people’s participation and political change were necessary to strengthen the sovereignty and security of our country, and the peace, prosperity and wellbeing of our people.

So to celebrate our democracy, I’ve recently been thinking about, and asking people two questions. One, when did we first know that democracy would be introduced in our country? And two, when did we actually embrace democracy?

The answer to the second question is quite obvious: most people see 24th March 2008, as the day Bhutan reluctantly accepted democracy. To be sure, a lot had already taken place before the 24th of March: A draft Constitution was prepared; that draft was discussed widely, throughout our country; the Election Commission of Bhutan was established; electoral laws were drafted; a mock election was conducted; political parties were formed; and the National Council elections were conducted.

Still, for most of us, 24th March 2008 comes to mind when we think about the introduction of democracy in our country. That was the day when we went to the polls, in record numbers, to elect members to the National Assembly and, by extension, to choose our first government.

The answer to the first question, however, is not as straightforward. And, most of the people I posed the question to were, at best, tentative with their answers. So I invite you to think about the same question: when did you first know that democracy would be introduced in our country?

Noble king

Bhutan's kings-2A year ago, on 21 July, during the first sitting of the Parliament after the signing of the Constitution, I proposed a motion to nominate His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for the Nobel Peace Prize. To recall the importance of that motion, I’m featuring a photograph of our beloved kings, taken during the signing of the Constitution, in the banner. And, I’m posting a rough translation of the statement I made in the Parliament last year.

On the 15th day of the 5th month of our calendar, His Majesty the King affixed his signature, in pure gold, to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan. That historic moment, which took place in the Grand Assembly Hall of the Trashichho Dzong amid the sacred representations of the Lord Buddha, was witnessed by the monks of the Zhung Dratshang; His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo; Their Majesties the Queen Mothers, members of the Royal Family; ministers, members of the Parliament; officers of the security forces, civil servants; and the thousands of people who had congregated from many dzongkhags.

By this royal action, His Majesty the King gifted the Constitution, and, with it, the complete powers of governance, to the people of Bhutan.

In 1907, one hundred years ago, our forefathers had voluntarily given up all powers of the government to our first king, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Since then, under the golden reigns of successive Wangchuck monarchs, the people of Bhutan have enjoyed unprecedented peace, prosperity and happiness.

Now, by introducing democracy, along with the Constitution, His Majesty the King has ensured that the sun of peace and happiness will never set on Bhutan and the Bhutanese people. This is a most precious gift. So, together with all our people, from all corners of our country, I respectfully submit my heartfelt gratitude and tashi delek to His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan is without equal. No where else in the world, and at no time in history, has a constitution such as ours been constructed. Similarly, no other monarchy in the world, at no time in history, has given their powers to their people. The devolution of absolute powers from the Golden Throne to the people is, indeed, unique to Bhutan. In addition, in no other country has democracy been introduced in an environment of complete peace and stability, for in practically every other country, the transition to democracy has invariably been accompanied by war and strife.

All this has been made possible in Bhutan because of our visionary monarch, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a true Dharma King. His Majesty has transmitted his noble thoughts and deeds, through the Constitution, to the Bhutanese people. Peace, prosperity and happiness will, therefore, continue to favour Bhutan and her people.

We must also allow other peoples, in other countries, throughout the world, to learn about and to benefit from the unparalleled wisdom and compassion of our beloved monarch. For this, it will be fitting to present His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Prime Minister should, therefore, on behalf of all the Bhutanese people and members of the Parliament, submit a proposal nominating His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for the Nobel Peace Prize. I propose that the nomination, along with complete justifications, be sent to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, based in Norway, as soon as possible.

The construction of a constitution such as ours is, in itself, sufficient reason to be presented the award. But, in addition, His Majesty has, at the height of his popularity, devolved all powers of government, introduced democracy and abdicated from the throne . His Majesty has ensured peace, stability and the security for our country; developed the social wellbeing of our people; promoted our unique culture and heritage, and protected our pristine environment. This is why Bhutan, a small country, enjoys so much peace and happiness. And, this is why it is most appropriate to present His Majesty the Nobel Peace Prize.

But that is not all. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, a King of Destiny, has given Bhutan and the world, Gross National Happiness. This timeless development philosophy is already gaining widespread acceptance and is guiding development in many parts of the world.

We, parliamentarians, recently celebrated the signing of the Constitution together. Similarly, I call upon all my fellow parliamentarians to collectively support this proposal to nominate our beloved monarch for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Social risk

french-revolution-2About a month ago I’d written about the Political Instability Index, EIU’s forecast of the likelihood of political unrest for165 countries. The Index ranked Norway as the world’s most politically stable country, and Zimbabwe the most volatile. 95 countries were considered “very high risk” or “high risk”; 53 countries “moderate risk”; and only 17 countries were deemed to be “low risk”.

Bhutan, ranked 108, was rated at “moderate risk” to socio-political upheaval.

Bhutanese Blogger expressed disappointment that I didn’t elaborate and commented:

“I am disheartened that Your Excellency has chosen to blog this but do not have any opinion on this index.

“Will this not be (mis)construed as an acknowledgement of the reported ‘moderate risk’? Would not the readers assume that you agree that we have become more vulnerable since 2007?

“This may send out wrong signals to everybody and can the decisions of many individuals (like foreign investors).”

I had promised Bhutanese Blogger that I’d share my opinions on the Index in “a few days.” But it’s already been more than a month. I’m sorry.

All over the world, people live in constant fear of social unrest and political failure. This is particularly so in our immediate neighbourhood. Yet we, Bhutanese, take stability for granted. This is why I found the EIU’s study interesting.

So why is our country this stable? Because of one reason, and one reason alone: our kings. It’s thanks to them that we’ve enjoyed a century of peace, prosperity and happiness. And that we continue to do so. Remember that before 17th December 1907, life in Bhutan was unpredictable, and that our beloved Drukyul was plagued by political intrigue of the highest order.

But the EIU put our country today at “moderate risk”, not “low risk” as most of us would believe. Why? And why have we become so much more vulnerable since 2007? Democracy. Or, more precisely, the transition to a democracy. We enjoyed unprecedented social and political progress under a benevolent absolute monarchy. But with democracy, there are no such guarantees. Recall, for instance, our anxieties before the elections. And remember that they were caused by our politicians.

So the point is this: now that we are a democracy, we can no longer take social and political stability for granted. We must work for it. We must earn it.

The EIU studied fifteen indicators to come up with their political instability index. They include inequality, corruption, trust in institutions, a country’s neighbourhood, unemployment, and level of income per head (read EIU’s methodology). A quick look at these indicators should tell us that we need to do a lot more work – especially in areas like unemployment, inequality and corruption – even just to maintain our “moderate risk” status.

But we are lucky. Our country is blessed with one more indicator. An advantage, actually. And that is our monarchy. In democratic Bhutan, this precious institution has become that much more important.

So to answer Bhutanese Blogger’s comment: All things considered, “moderate risk” appears to be about right. And if EIU thinks that our country has become less stable, it’s probably due to our transition to democracy. But if we work towards building an honest and vibrant democracy, we can, because we have the advantage of a wise monarch, become the most stable country in the world.

It’s up to us.

Cribbing right

Responding to “Government awards media awards” kikisoso called me a cribber. This is what kikisoso wrote:

The easiest job in the world is to crib. The task at hand is to provide beter and viable alternatives.
OL, let us hear your alternative plans that are more well thought out than just wishful thinking. media people judging themselves will be a bloody melee ….
I think we should learn the lessons of this award and make it more credible next time around – you know, no jury winners (what a balony), better and more broadbased jury selection, awards for ‘body of works’ and not one report …. and what not, By teh way, what was the Dashos at the helm of MOIC doing, eating peanuts … how could they let such grave inadequacies slip by? Too busy arranging te folds of their ghos and colourful kabneys???
Until then , let us refrain from cribbing – the easiest job in the world.

The reason I raise an issue is to draw attention to it. I do so my sharing my opinions on the issue, fully aware that they are just that: an individual’s opinion.

I try not to present solutions. Doing so would take the focus away from the issue. And it would be arrogant. Anyway, I do not have solutions to every problem. And even when I think I have one, that solution may not be the best one.

So the idea is to share my opinion on an issue, even if I’m seen to be “cribbing”. I believe that this allows our readers, including kikisoso, to express their considered opinions on the issue. And to discuss how they would address the issue; how they would solve the problem.

And this is exactly what kikisoso has done. Kikisoso has expressed critical views on an issue (i.e, cribbed) and called for the awards to be made more credible in the future. I find kikisoso’s views useful. And I hope that the media and the government pay attention to them.

As for the “better and viable alternatives” that kikisoso calls for, we fist need to understand the issue. For me the issue is not the credibility of the awards. I’m not cribbing about how the selections were conducted. Or that they may not have been fair.

For me the real issue is preventing government involvement and control in the media, no matter how small the risks may appear to be. So when our government organizes the media awards, and must decide who wins and who doesn’t, I’m naturally concerned. I’m worried that our government could, knowingly or otherwise, influence our otherwise promising media.

Now for a possible “alternative plan” to minimize the risk of government interference in the media. Many countries have press clubs. And I understand that our media are trying to form a journalists association. Such an association would be the most qualified to decide how to conduct future media awards without unhealthy outside influences.

Will that rule out controversy at future awards? No! You can bet that there will be controversy. But remember the issue: government interference in the media. That issue, I can say confidently, would have been addressed.

Media awarded

14 different prizes were up for grabs during yesterday’s First Annual Media Awards. Of them, I was especially interested in seeing who would bag the prize for the best editorial of the year. Editorials, after all, are important: they express a newspaper’s stand or opinion on issues. And editorials are powerful: many readers, especially in rural Bhutan, accept, without any questions, the opinions expressed in the editorials as the truth.

So who was awarded the prize? The prize was awarded to not one, not two, but three journalists representing the three main newspapers in our country – Kuensel, Bhutan Observer and Bhutan Times.

What does this mean? That the editorials, one from each of our three leading papers, were equally good. Or that the editorials, one from each of our three leading papers, were equally bad. Or that the judges, appointed by and paid for by the government, were guided by considerations other than quality of the editorial.

Political Instability Index

The Economist Intelligence Unit has predicted that the likelihood of political unrest has increased for most countries since 2007. A total of 95 countries are rated as being at “very high risk” or “high risk”, and Zimbabwe is considered to be the most vulnerable of all the 165 countries surveyed. Only 17 countries, led by Norway, are deemed to have “low risk” of political turmoil. See EIU’s Political Instability Index.

With seven of the ten most vulnerable countries coming from Africa, that continent continues to be the most politically instable region in the world.

But South Asia doesn’t fare much better. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are all among the 27 countries rated to have “very high risk” of political and social turmoil. Bhutan and India, both rated to be at “moderate risk”, are the least vulnerable to political strife among South Asian countries.

EIU’s Political Instability Index was prepared by rating each country for its “economic distress” and “underlying vulnerability to unrest.”