News / Asia

Bhutan Set for Change in Power Following Election

In this photograph taken on July 13, 2013, Bhutanese men wait in line to cast their votes at a polling station in Thimphu.
In this photograph taken on July 13, 2013, Bhutanese men wait in line to cast their votes at a polling station in Thimphu.
Anjana Pasricha
Bhutan's new government is preparing to take power following the country’s second-ever election, which consolidated democracy five years after its monarch gave up power. 

Six years ago, Tashi Tobgay, a tour operator based in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, witnessed a mock election held to help people understand the concept of voting for political parties.  Less than a week ago he voted in the second election held since the Bhutanese monarch decided to hand over power to a civilian government in 2008. 
 
President of the People's Democratic Party, Tshering Tobgay, addresses the media in Thimpu on July 15, 2013.President of the People's Democratic Party, Tshering Tobgay, addresses the media in Thimpu on July 15, 2013.
x
President of the People's Democratic Party, Tshering Tobgay, addresses the media in Thimpu on July 15, 2013.
President of the People's Democratic Party, Tshering Tobgay, addresses the media in Thimpu on July 15, 2013.
The results were unexpected. The former main opposition People’s Democratic Party won a sweeping victory, winning 32 of the 47 seats in the National Assembly. 
 
For Tobgay, the ouster of the old government demonstrates that democracy has taken roots in his country, which was largely insulated from the rest of the world until the turn of the century. He said he feels proud.  
 
“I think Bhutan do[es] have a very good chance to showcase to the rest of the world that Bhutan do things differently," Tobgay said. 
 
Political observers say when the King gave up power there was some apprehension among the Bhutanese due to the experience of neighboring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh, where military coups, civil war and political infighting have tarnished people’s experience with democracy.  
 
But Omair Ahmad at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in New Delhi and author of a book on Bhutan said the Himalayan country has strengthened democracy through the second election.
      
“The turnout was higher than even in the first election," said Ahmad. "You have had a change of leadership, a party, and it has been done completely peacefully. Even the rhetoric has been fairly restrained. It is not a perfect picture, but it is a fairly good picture.”
 
The lively political debates among ordinary citizens in the days before the polls continue as people prepare for the new government to take over by the end of the month. 
 
Karma Ura, head of the Center for Bhutan Studies in Thimphu and a member of the interim government that supervised the polls, said people are updating their understanding of politicians and parties very rapidly.
 
“I was very surprised by the shift in the choice, the new choice made by the people," said Ura. "I personally did not expect it. The old party did very well on service delivery side such as mobile connectivity, road construction and electrification of rural areas. However, I think more subtle things like decentralization of power, or management of very difficult areas of economy, shortages of rupee, these kind of things made the middle class perhaps and educated class little bit disenchanted about skills of old government.”  
 
The new government in Bhutan has promised to develop stronger ties with India, with whom it depends for much of its trade. Just before the polls, India reduced gas and oil subsidies for its neighbor, causing prices to rise and sparking speculation that New Delhi was angry with the former government for making efforts to build friendly ties with China. 
 
Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Political analysts say balancing ties with India and China has become an important part of the political discourse in the tiny country, which is sandwiched between the Asian giants.

Most people in Bhutan are in favor of retaining close ties with India, which buys hydropower from Bhutan, the country’s main export, said Ura.
 
“Solid progress depends on India’s cooperation. It [Bhutan] is landlocked, it is southward bound, it sells electricity to India, all this they want to continue, because it is so important for sustainable development of Bhutan. This is the only area from which we earn some money. This sector needs to develop.”
 
Tucked in the high Himalayas, Bhutan only permitted television and the Internet less than 15 years ago, and limits tourists in a bid to preserve its culture. The country still prefers to link its progress to what it calls the Gross National Happiness Index in place of economic indices such as Gross Domestic Product.
 
But as the new government takes over power by the end of the month, many younger Bhutanese are hoping it will also work to build a more vibrant economy and create more job opportunities. Among them is tour operator Tobgay, who is in his thirties.
 
“Bhutan needs to move forward to be part of the global village, but we need to move in a very wise way, not rush things, but take it as it comes," he said.
 
That is what many people in the country of about 700,000 people want: a careful balance between integrating with the rest of the world and preserving their culture.

You May Like

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Activists for Peace Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified boarder, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NY
July 18, 2013 9:42 AM
Congratulations to Bhutan on their successful exercise of democracy & peaceful change in the govt! I hope one day Tibet will also be a free & democratic nation.

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