The State of Democracy in Bhutan

By Lily Wanggchuk

Lily Wanggchuk

We Bhutanese never wanted democracy since our earlier system of governance, Monarchy had worked so well for our country surpassing even our neighbours in terms of our economic development and remarkable progress that we never felt the need for any change. Yet, our Fourth Druk Gyalpo forced upon us, democracy by handing over power to the people, keeping in view the longer term interest of the country.

In 2008, we set a unique, extraordinary example to the world with not only peaceful, political transition to democracy but more importantly with Their Majesties the Kings encouraging people to be part of the political process. That was a very moving, highly motivating moment with many of us leaving our comfort zone to play our role in taking our country further as productive citizens. Drawing inspiration from our Kings, we felt strong sense of moral obligation and responsibility and wanted to contribute in our own ways.

With democracy, we have all witnessed vibrant mushrooming of constitutional bodies, CSOs, strengthened media, greater liberty, equality, justice and humility in elected leaders and active citizenry. But with the good, ills have also come.
Our democracy is now nine years old and looking at our state of democracy we are more disillusioned than happy with many of us (including myself) wishing and hoping return to the earlier system of governance. One major reason is the division of the society we have seen along party lines. In the earlier system we were all One Nation One People with a strong sense of solidarity, strongly united under one benevolent leader, our King. Today, we not only find ourselves divided along party lines but there also exists great amount of suspicion in our activities and mistrust in our relationships. This is probably the greatest ill of democracy we have witnessed which could have been easily prevented by political parties.

Further, democracy has allowed misuse of public funds and time, instigated corruption, at times led to delays with decision making process, led to immoral practices during elections. These experiences have led us to lose our faith in democracy.
Democracy has been introduced by the Fourth Druk Gyalpo with the best of intention since it is noted to be one of the most efficient government systems. Thus, whether we like it or not, democracy is here to stay and we as citizens have all the more reason to make democracy work for us. The only option left for us is to make our democracy work and I personally believe the following maybe helpful:

1. Political Parties
If all political parties look beyond their own political interest and space by not engaging in negative campaigning, mudslinging, rumours, political corruption and bribery during elections we can prevent the ills of democracy.

2. Politicians:
As everywhere else politicians are negatiively perceived. Standing up for others and our beliefs takes a lot courage, hard work and at times sacrifice. Negative perception of politicians and politics amongst people will drive away the good people, attracting the wrong people. To encourage good leaders, we need to show some gratitude for standing up for the rest of us. We need to embrace civility and empathy. Democracy is too important to waste away in petty arguments, wrong judgements or gotcha statements. To engage, we must connect, understand, and work in a spirit of thankfulness and respect.

3. Protection of Institutions:
It is also important for us to protect and ensure independence of important institutions like the constitutional bodies, media, judiciary, central bank, educational institutes.

4. Citizens
With democracy comes not only rights but responsibilities. We must grasp our role to further the meaning of democracy by converting our equal responsibilities into actions. It is what good citizens do. It is what good leaders do. Each one of us here also need to take personal responsibilityto make our democracy meaningful by engaging in forums, holding our elected leaders accountable, contributing in making communities better and above all upholding our unity and solidarity.

5. Youth and Women:
Democracy is all about diversity highlighting the importance of participation of women and youth, without whose participation responsive policies for all sections of the society cannot be formulated. The process could be strengthened by enhancing the representation of women and youth in politics and governance. We must create a supportive, enabling environment for their effective political participation, refrain from sexist campaign and above all women & youth must be part of change you want to see by embracing politics.

6. Social, Economic and Political consciousness is also indispensable for the success of democracy. Shrewd politicians may misguide even educated people if they are not sufficiently conversant with social, economic and political issues. Democracy can be successful only when people imbibe these three kinds of consciousness. Without this awareness, the welfare of the society is not possible either in theory or in practice.

7. Voters
If we do not vote, then we cannot complain. However, it’s worse. If we do not vote, then we are letting a small group dictate what is done for and to the larger group. To participate, we need to simply vote. It is our role in democracy.
We Bhutanese are very fortunate as compared to many other countries in the world. We also have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other countries with their democracy. Drawing inspiration from our benevolent Monarchs, the present generation of politicians and political parties are fully committed to the goal of achieving our shared vision, a happier, stronger, independent with strengthened sovereignty.

The future of Bhutanese Democracy holds every possibility of emerging as a shining example in its own right provided all of us come together for a greater good – whether we are leaders, political parties, CSOs, media or citizens.

Together we can make democracy work because the ultimate rulers of our democracy are not the PM, Ministers or MPs, but the voters and citizens of this country. That was our sacred gift from the Throne!

Pelden Drukpa Gyelo!

(The writer is president of the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa)

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