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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs