News

    Bhutan Continues Dry Run Towards Democracy

    There is anxiety in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where "gross national happiness" is the metric of success. Changes are occurring swiftly since King Jigme Singye Wangchuck suddenly retired last year, handing power to his 26-year-old son who will be formally crowned next year. The senior monarch also declared that Bhutan's kings should no longer have absolute power, and has nudged his somewhat reluctant subjects towards a constitutional monarchy and an elected national legislature. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Thimpu, Bhutan, on the latest steps in the "Land of the Thunder Dragon's" journey to democracy.

    Bhutan is in the process of holding its first general election, sort of. It is actually a mock election, a two-part practice exercise that began last month when voters chose among four shades of "Thunder Dragon" political parties:  red, green, yellow and blue. Yellow and red were the top vote-getters, and stand-in candidates - in this case high school students from the two fictional parties - will be on the ballots for the practice run-off vote next Monday.

    The mock elections are aimed at preparing the people of this landlocked mountainous country for the real thing, and the population of fewer than 700,000 people is taking the exercise seriously.

    The first real vote, later this year, will send 20 non-partisan candidates to the National Council, the upper house of the new parliament. The king will nominate five additional "eminent persons" to the Council.  Next year, the public will elect 47 party-affiliated politicians to the National Assembly, the lower house, where they will serve five-year terms.

    Chief Election Commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi says the mock elections are necessary to teach Bhutanese how the democratic process works, and to convince them that the government is sincere about holding free and fair elections.

    "Till that time, I think, probably people did not really believe it," he said.  "It may be coming, it may not be so. Now they know for sure that the elections are going to happen.  Therefore there is enthusiasm being generated in terms of better voter registration, and people trying to understand more about democracy and how effectively they can participate."

    A democracy needs not only voters, but candidates.  Initially it was feared there might be a dearth of potential lawmakers in a country with no tradition of politicking. Now, at least three parties are forming, and prospective candidates are emerging.

    One of them is Lekey Dorji, whose only experience with elections was being voted chief prefect of his school in ninth grade. Dorji went on to earn an engineering degree from the University of Kansas in the United States. After graduate studies in Britain, he returned home to work for the national phone company, and then became an Internet entrepreneur in the capital, Thimpu.

    Dorji is running for the seat in his home district, a rural area where electricity is virtually non-existent and roads few and far between. He is promising development for his constituents, who are mainly farmers.

    "If I'm elected, I would be ashamed if I don't deliver on those promises," he said.  "Of course, you will also not be promising things that you can't really deliver. But I'm quite positive that through [the] democratic process that we will be able to help our people in the constituencies. These are the people who really need help."

    But there is also skepticism about democracy here.  Even the elections chief acknowledges that democracy has an image problem, perhaps because elections in neighboring democracies are a rough-and-tumble exercise, and many of those elected are of dubious repute.

    "They think democracy means the player from wealth and muscle power, all is sort of battle between vested interests," he added.

    Candidate Dorji also realizes his career change is fraught with challenges in a nation where most people strongly express contentment with the hereditary monarchy that has ruled for the past 100 years.

    "Through the media and all, we always hear about politicians being greedy, politicians being bad," added candidate Dorji.  "They are quite anxious. They have enjoyed the prosperity, the happiness, under the kings. This is an irreversible process our king has initiated, we just can't go back."

    One of the first duties of the novice legislators will be formally approving the draft constitution, another departure for the kingdom. The document calls for kings to retire as head of state at age 65, recognizes Buddhism as the "spiritual heritage" of Bhutan, and ensures that a minimum of 60 percent of the country's total land will forever remain under forest cover.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.