News

    Bhutan Set to Become World's Newest Democracy

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Bhutan is gearing up to become the world's newest democracy with the country's first-ever national elections on Monday. The elections are a bold step for this isolated and traditionally Buddhist Himalayan kingdom toward the 21st century. Raymond Thibodeaux has this report for VOA from Phuentsholing on Bhutan's border with India.

    Here, on the Bhutan side of the border, it is quiet. The streets are clean and the air is clear, a far cry from conditions just beyond Bhutan Gate in Phuentsholing on the border with India. By contrast, the Indian side is crowded, filthy and loud. Children in tattered clothes beg in the streets as buses and trucks rumble by spewing exhaust in the air.

    It is as if the Bhutan Gate is a portal into a land that time forgot. This tiny Himalayan kingdom, wedged between the emerging superpowers of India and China, has been largely isolated from the rest of the world. But that is starting to change.

    Ruled by monarchs for more than a hundred years, Bhutan is holding its first-ever election on Monday to choose members of parliament who will have real power, not just serve as advisors to the king. In a political model similar to Thailand's, the king will serve as a figurehead.

    Ramgay Wangchuck manages a hotel in Phuentsholing. He says some people are reluctant to embrace democracy.

    "Even the people have requested of the King, when he announced about democracy and the decentralization of the government, that [they] don't want to do that," said Wangchuck. "But the King himself has given that power to the people. And people are trying to fulfill the King's desire."

    Bhutan has two main political parties. There is the People's Democratic Party with its symbol of a white horse. And there is the Bhutan Prosperity and Unity Party with its symbol, three black-necked cranes.

    Aside from their symbols, there is not much difference between the two parties. And not much campaigning, for that matter. Both are running a simple theme of what people here call "Gross National Happiness". It is this country's measure of civic success with four pillars: environmental protection, cultural preservation, sustainable growth and good governance.

    But editorials in newspapers across Bhutan reflect the country's skepticism of democracy in a country that has been largely peaceful under a succession of five kings.

    Part of that skepticism comes as people here look toward its southern neighbor, India, with its democracy rife with corruption and chaos.

    Jit Tshering is a lecturer on democratic politics at the Royal Institute of Management in Thimphu, Bhutan's capital.

    "We do not have any dazzling or fantastic examples of democracy in the surrounding areas," said Jit. "And it doesn't help us, actually, because we are so conscious of our past and our roots and that we have been doing so well so far. We are asking, Is the new thing we are going in for going to spoil our successes that we've attained so fast? And that is the issues actually and that is why there is concern for the future."

    It was Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who nearly two decades ago vowed to surrender the throne in favor of a constitutional democracy. His 29-year-old, Oxford-educated son, Jigme Khesar Namguel Wangchuck, the current king, is seeing that vision through.

    Dolmo Choso runs a travel agency. Like many here, she is happy with the status quo. She says there is no need to fix something that is not broken.

    "We would still love our King to be our leader, but he has handed this down to the public to choose their leaders," said Choso. "So we should be good citizens and vote. I think we all have mixed emotions. We don't want [to vote], but we have to. It's for the future of Bhutan, I guess."

    The biggest challenge for most people in Bhutan is the vast distances many of them must travel to cast their ballots in their home villages. For some, the journey back home can take up to three days by car, bus and on foot. But it is a journey they appear eager to make for their king.

     

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora