News

Bhutan Transitions to New King, Heralding New Democratic Era

Multimedia

Audio

A nation is hailing the ascension of a young and charismatic leader.  It is not the United States, but rather the small Himalayan country of Bhutan.  From the capital, Thimpu, VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports on the sweeping changes culminating with the crowning of the Fifth Druk Gyalpo, otherwise known as King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

While the rest of world focuses on the election of a young senator as president of the United States, here in the Himalayas all eyes are on a 28-year-old Western-educated hereditary monarch as he receives the Raven Crown.

The coronation of Jigme Khesar as Bhutan's first constitutional monarch, culminates a two-year transfer of royal power from his father, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated in late 2006.

Bhutan Foreign Secretary Yeshey Dorji says the formal crowning in the Land of the Thunder Dragon had to wait for an auspicious date set by astrologers.  In the meantime, the new king assumed the duties of his father.             

"You need to get some expertise and experience in functioning as a king.  So, before the formal coronation, His Majesty already took over the role of the king and he has been functioning since then," said Dorji.            

A business entrepreneur in the capital, Sonam Tobgay, gives Jigme Khesar preliminary high marks, explaining that Bhutanese will not praise a monarch merely because he was born to rule.
           
"You're not born with leadership qualities.  It's something that you mature and you build over a period of time," said Tobgay. "He's been matured, he's been cultured, groomed to take over this task.  As far as we can see he's done a very good job over the last one year."

Not only did the Fourth King of the century-long Wangchuck Dynasty voluntarily step aside, but in a move perhaps unprecedented in history - coming as it did without internal or external pressure - the monarch commanded that a constitution be drafted and the country shift to a parliament-based democracy.

Bhutanese were initially shocked and then confused by the moves of their revered king, who had ruled peacefully for 34 years.

King Jigme Singye had broken with convention, previously.  He developed the concept of Gross National Happiness, stressing emotional well-being over the traditional economic indicator of Gross National Product.

Communications Minister Nandalal Rai tells VOA News the Fourth King, over the past quarter century, wanted his traditionally isolated kingdom to become more integrated in the international community.            

"Our Fourth King has been trying to train us and make us aware of the situation that has been happening in the world - that the government must be of the people and for the people.  That is the democratic process.  He did, in his wisdom, felt the people must be able to take care of themselves, not a particular person ruling like in the medieval ages," said Rai.

The transition has been stable, so far.  Parliament elections were held, this year, with the winning party sweeping nearly every constituency, defying pollsters who predicted a close race in the contentious campaign.

The changes for the Buddhist nation of 635,000 people, wedged between giant neighbors China and India, have brought other outside influences, as well, not all of them positive.

Modern communications has been good for education and the fledgling business community, but it puts pressure on traditional culture.

Thimpu businessman Tobgay says Bhutanese understand there may be a price to pay for modernity.            

"That is a risk that we have to take.  All these things, the Western culture creeping in and the contamination of our indigenous culture, tradition,   it's a possibility.  With the introduction of TV, with the Internet and the cellular phone, these are things that we cannot avoid. If we avoid this we will become like the dinosaur. If you fail to evolve, you become extinct," said Tobgay.

With the coronation, Bhutan, the world's newest democracy, also becomes the nation with the youngest reigning monarch.  But the Fifth King of the modern dynasty will not stay on the throne beyond early in the year 2045.  That is not a prognostication of the astrologers but rather the mandate of the new constitution, under which the sovereign, at age 65, must retire.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs