Inching towards parliamentary democracy
The destiny of Bhutan lies in the hands of its people.
This short line sums up the cornerstone of His Majesty the Fourth King’s policies. Every major speech that he has made resonated with this theme. Almost every major activity was geared towards people empowerment. Decentralization, people’s participation, local governance – these phrases indeed became catchwords in Bhutan’s developmental journey.
It all began with the establishment of the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogdu in 1981, followed 10 years later by the Gewog Yargye Tshogdu. In 1998, the erstwhile cabinet was dissolved and replaced by ministers elected by the parliament. In between, numerous initiatives were set in motion to empower the people at the grassroots.
In 2001, the country began drafting the constitution. A drafting committee with a strong intellectual core and representations from the people was formed. After almost two years of fine-tuning, the constitution went for public consultations in all the 20 districts, led none other than by the 4th King.
The draft constitution has unleashed a frenzy of activities. Constitutional bodies like the Election Commission of Bhutan, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Attorney General have been established.
With the dates for nationwide parliamentary elections set for early 2008, the people are being educated on the nuances of taking part in the democratic process. Two rounds of mock elections were conducted nationwide. Besides, there is a constant bombardment of voter education messages through posters, pamphlets and other forms of infomercials.
Meanwhile, political parties are being formed. The political aspirants behind the two parties already on the scene – Druk Phuensum Tshokpa and People’s Democratic Party – are on the road introducing themselves to the voters.
As per the draft constitution, Bhutan will have a tri-cameral parliament consisting of the King, the National Council and the National Assembly. The National Council, to function more or less in the mould of upper houses elsewhere, will consist of 25 members, five appointed by the King and 20 elected from the 20 districts.
The National Assembly, equivalent to a lower house, will consist of 47 members elected from the country’s 47 constituencies. The political party which garners more seats in this house will form Bhutan’s first democratically elected government.