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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
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 Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
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 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 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.

VOA Blogs