Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan conjures up images of peace and tranquility. Indeed, it is a country of serene and striking geographic beauty. But this setting brings with it an isolation that kept Bhutan politically sealed off from the rest of the world as an absolute monarchy until 2008, when it became a democracy.
Over the next couple of months Bhutan will take steps towards further consolidating its fledgling democracy. Its people will vote first for the National Council (the upper house of parliament) and then the National Assembly (the lower house).
This is the second time in their country’s history that the Bhutanese will be voting in parliamentary elections. Voting for the 25-member Council will take place on April 23. While voting dates for the more influential Assembly are yet to be announced, they are expected in June.
Bhutan’s first general election was held in March 2008. It was a two-horse race between the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Voter enthusiasm was high, with voter turnout of almost 80 percent. Several voters trudged through kilometers of mountainous terrain to take part. Although pre-election violence did occur, polling was peaceful.
Although some analysts predicted a close contest, the DPT swept the elections, winning 45 of the 47 seats in the National Assembly.
Will Bhutan’s second general election be any different? There a few key developments worth noting. For one, more parties are likely to enter the fray this time around. Further, voter turnout is expected to be lower. As for the outcome, the DPT is likely to win again, albeit by a smaller margin.
An absolute monarchy for a century ago, Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy in 2008, making it one of the youngest democracies in the world.
King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck took the first steps towards democratization by setting up a 130-member National Assembly in 1953. His son and successor Jigme Singye Wangchuck further loosened the monarchy’s grip on absolute power in 1998 when he took steps to rule Bhutan in conjunction with the National Assembly as well as the Council of Cabinet Ministers. He followed that up by setting in motion the drafting of a constitution in 2001.
Political parties – banned decades ago – were reintroduced in 2007. In December that year and January 2008, Bhutanese voted for their National Council. Three months later, they elected their National Assembly. The new democratically elected bicameral Parliament then enacted the Constitution.