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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora