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.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.