Tag Archives: DPT

Do Chinese-Indian relations explain the result of the Bhutanese elections?


Although it’s only the second election in the brief history of Bhutanese democracy, Bhutan’s voters will mark the precedent of its first democratic transfer of power following Saturday’s election, in which the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP, མི་སེར་དམངས་གཙོའི་ཚོགས་པ་) scored a major victory, winning 32 seats to just 15 seats for the governing party.bhutan

That’s quite a turnaround from the country’s first-ever election in 2008, when the governing Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, DPT, འབྲུག་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་པ) won 45 out of 47 seats in the country’s Gyelyong Tshogdu (National Assembly), the lower house of the recently promulgated Bhutanese parliament.

The governing DPT is seen as slightly closer to Bhutan’s monarch, the Druk Gyalpo (འབྲུག་རྒྱལ་པོ, its ‘dragon king’), the young Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck who has, like his father before him, smoothed the path toward the gradual development of a constitutional monarchy.  But both parties support the constitutional monarchy and both parties have ties to the governing elite.  The former PDP leader, for example, is Sangay Ngedup, who previously served as prime minister in the pre-parliamentary era from 1999 to 2000 and from 2005 to 2006.  DPT leader and Bhutan’s first elected prime minister, Jigme Thinley, previously served as prime minister from 1998 to 1999 and from 2007 to 2008.

Here’s more background on Bhutan’s idiosyncratic path to democracy at the time of the first round at the end of May, which eliminated two of the four competing political parties, setting the conditions for the July runoff between the DPT and the PDP.  Although the governing DPT won 44.52% of the first-round vote to just 32.53% for the opposition PDP, the DPT picked up virtually no support in the weeks following its initial May victory.

Tshering Tobgay (pictured above),  the PDP’s current leader, will now become Bhutan’s second prime minister, is a former civil servant, and comes from a younger generation of Bhutanese than either Ngedup or Thinley. (You can watch his TEDx talk in English on happiness here).  He’ll come to power on a wave of discontent over many issues, including a rupee shortage last year that brought about a miniature credit crunch in Bhutan caused, in part, by the government’s decision to spend too much of its Indian rupee reserves.

But the outcome may owe much to India’s ham-fisted decision to terminate a kerosene and cooking gas subsidy to its northern neighbor at the end of June, causing prices of the two energy sources to rise, allegedly in retribution for Thinley’s diplomatic overtures to the People’s Republic of China.  In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s election, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh made it clear that the subsidy would be restored as soon as possible.  But the clear implication is that India used its special influence with Bhutan, the top recipient of Indian financial aid, to attempt to intervene in an internal election:

New Delhi was alarmed not just by Thinley, who made himself the official ambassador of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness phenomenon, reaching out to Beijing but also the manner in which he established diplomatic ties with many other countries without bothering to take South Block into confidence.

Tobgay used the crisis as yet another instance to criticize Thinley for jeopardizing Bhutanese-Indian relations and he’s stated that bilateral relations with India will be his top priority.  Though Indian officials now admit the subsidy decision could have been better timed, it’s hard to see how the subsidy dispute could have helped Thinley in the closing days of the Bhutanese campaign.  Given the central economic and geopolitical role that India plays in Bhutan, it wasn’t a good sign for Thinley that he spent the final week of the campaign on the defensive over Indian relations.  There are a lot of reasons for the PDP’s victory on Saturday, including the wholly separate issue of last year’s rupee shortage, wider doubts about the Bhutanese economy, youth unemployment and the still-unsettled treatment of the Nepalese minority in Bhutan.  But it’s not hard to see how the PDP’s success — in southern Bhutan, in particular — came about in large part due to the Indian issue.

To understand why India (and China) are so important to Bhutan is to understand the simple geography of the country:


Continue reading Do Chinese-Indian relations explain the result of the Bhutanese elections?

Bhutan holds only its second election in history with initial round of parliamentary vote


No country on the planet has quite tried to tip-toe so selectively into the modern world like the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, a landlocked nation at the foothills of the Himalayas between northeastern India and Chinese Tibet. bhutan

For a country that permitted television and internet only for the first time in 1999, Bhutan has gently turned from an absolute monarchy to a form of constitutional monarchy, beginning in 2008 with the enactment of a formal constitution and the first-ever elections in the country’s history.

Voters in the small country, with around one million residents, voted for a new parliament for just the second time in Bhutanese history on Friday in the first round of a two-part vote — and with results back by mid-day Saturday, Bhutan’s election commission proved that it could tally election results faster than the Italian authorities counted last week’s Rome municipal election.  That’s measurable progress for Bhutan — despite the country’s notoriety for measuring ‘Gross National Happiness,’ its reputation as a high-end tourism destination and, all too often, a one-dimensional international image as a ‘Buddhist Shangri-La,’ it’s hardly without its challenges.

Following the first of two rounds of parliamentary elections on May 31, the top two parties will advance to a second round later on July 13 to determine the composition of the country’s Gyelyong Tshogdu (National Assembly), a 47-member body that comprises the lower house of the Bhutanese parliament.  Members of the 25-seat Gyelyong Tshogde (National Council), the upper house, were determined earlier in April.

The governing Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, DPT, འབྲུག་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་པ) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP, མི་སེར་དམངས་གཙོའི་ཚོགས་པ་) will advance to those runoffs after seeing off two new parties in Friday’s first round.

The Bhutanese government serves under the monarchial guidance of Bhutan’s Druk Gyalpo (འབྲུག་རྒྱལ་པོ, its ‘dragon king’), the country’s monarchical head of state, who since 2008 has been the youthful Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (pictured above, left).  Though Bhutan has been a unified and independent country since the 18th century, the current monarchy dates back to only 1907, and prior to the institution of the House of Wangchuck as the hereditary monarchy, Bhutan had a dual system of government between secular and religious authorities.  Although the British treated Bhutan as a semi-colonized entity and, from 1949 until 2007, India ostensibly guided Bhutanese foreign relations as a formal matter under the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, Bhutan has in practice been essentially independent since its unification as a nation in the 1700s.

Bhutan’s previous king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, took steps upon his coronation in 1972 to bring Bhutan into the modern world only a year after it formally joined the United Nations. He’s most well-known perhaps globally for coining the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness,’ a subjective alternative to strict economic measures like gross domestic product growth and other vectors of development.  The ‘Gross National Happiness’ standard tries to incorporate economic development alongside spiritual development in line with Buddhist teaching — notably through sustainable development, environmental conservation, the promotion of cultural values and good governance.

Those standards, however, have led to results that might seem incongruent under Western standards of good governance.  While Jigme Singye Wangchuck ultimately paved the way to greater democracy through the introduction of constitutional monarchy, he also introduced a national dress code in 1990, mandating that every Bhutanese citizen wear national dress — a gho, a colorful three-quarter robe, for men, and a kira, a full-body version, for women.  It’s also led to the government excluding Nepalese minorities (many of whom are Hindu, not Buddhist) in Bhutan, the Lhotshampa, from the country in the 1990s, many of whom still remain in refugee camps in Nepal under United Nations supervision, rejected from citizenship by either Bhutan or Nepal.  Finding a lasting solution for the remaining refugees should be one of the next Bhutanese government’s top priorities.  In addition, the Lhotshampa who remain in southern Bhutan remain subject to the same laws as the Bhutanese majority, including cultural laws and universal education in the dominant Dzongkha language, despite the fact that the Lhotshampa speak Nepali instead. In many cases, Bhutan’s government continues to deem them illegal immigrants. Continue reading Bhutan holds only its second election in history with initial round of parliamentary vote