Five years ago the remote Himalayan state of Bhutan turned from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, making it the youngest democracy on earth. Looking back at the developments since the transition, the democratization of Bhutan was a success story despite a few shortcomings. Come March 2013, and Bhutan will be set fair for its second round of parliamentary elections. While the past five years have been an exploratory phase for Bhutan, in terms of experimenting with and internalizing democratic norms, they nevertheless bear witness to the fact that the formal structures of democracy have indeed taken root in Bhutan. The criteria for assessing the success of democratization towards the end of the fifth year should be gauging the spread of the ‘effective components’ of democracy. One still often comes across the description of “democracy as a gift” (kidu) from the King, but any kind of analysis reveals that the process of democratization has indeed given rise to various stakeholders in the internal politics of Bhutan. How far the internal democratic space impinges on Bhutan’s foreign policy orientations is yet to be seen in the years to come.
Bhutan has respected the basic parameters of democracy. The constitution guarantees basic fundamental rights, such as the right to exercise freedom of expression and opinion as well as the right to form associations. There is an independent media and citizens have protection from the arbitrary actions of the state, particularly bodily injury and physical harm. There certainly is separation of powers as different institutions like the Election Commission, the Royal Court of Justice , the Anti Corruption Commission, the National Assembly and the National Council effectively guard and stand by their respective turfs. On electoral procedures, Bhutan has embraced the ‘first past the post system’ – a competitive system of votes, which makes way for two primary parties to contest the elections. Unlike in 2008, when only two political parties had made their presence visible, in March 2013 there will be five political parties contesting the elections. These are: Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Bhutan Kuen-Ngyam Party (BKP), Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT). While Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, is the incumbent party in Bhutan and has chances of coming to power in the next round of elections too, the People’s Democratic Party is currently the opposition party. Led by Tsering Tobgay, the party has been critical of various socio-economic policies the ruling party in power adheres to.
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Bhutan Kuen-Ngyam Party is a new party, which focuses on equality. Rup Narayan Adhikari, is the declared party leader. An engineer by profession, he is an old veteran in the private and public sector. Druk Chirwang Tshogpa is another new party in the race and has Ms Lily Wangchuk, a well-known career diplomat and social activist, as its declared leader. Rights of women and the marginalized are claimed to be the main focus of this party. Finally, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa is also a potential party and focuses on freedom, justice and solidarity as its motto. It has no declared leader at this point. An interesting development is the formation of Druk Me-sar Nazhoen Tshogpa (DMNT), which is driven by Bhutan’s young citizens. Around 50 percent of Bhutan’s population is a young voting constituency and DMNT is a youth collective lobbying for employment. According to The Bhutanese, a leading national daily, DMNT could be a game changer in determining the election outcome in 2013.
Full Article: Bhutan: elections 2013 | openDemocracy.