One year on

In March 2008, Bhutan ended its century-old system of absolute monarchy in favour of parliamentary democracy. This was a significant decision for a state that had always fought against democracy, claiming that it would damage the well-preserved culture and traditions of the isolated kingdom. Yet today, a year after the historic polls, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (the son of the monarch who originally made the decision to democratise) retains many of his political powers, including the authority to directly interfere in government activities and to reject decisions of the elected Parliament. The fact that people can now use their franchise and criticise the government is certainly a major achievement for Druk Yul. But taking stock of the first year of democracy in Bhutan, it must be said that far less has been achieved than initially expected.

There were certainly large promises made. During the campaign last year, the now-ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party propounded a philosophy of economic development and poverty alleviation, backed by the country's omnipresent official ideology of Gross National Happiness. After a year in power, however, there has been no visible progress in achieving any one of these goals, with not even a single development project having been approved by the DPT government. What is more, those projects already underway have been either delayed or halted outright, such as the construction of the second international airport in the southern town of Gelephu.

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Himal Southasian