Monday, December 31, 2007

Bhutan: Where is real democracy?

New Delhi, 31 December 2007

Today Bhutan is holding its first real voting to elect members to a new upper house of parliament, the National Council. This is indeed a historic day for the Bhutanese people and for the world as well, as democracy will be established in yet another corner of this restive world.

In December 2006, the Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuk handed over rein to his 26-year-old Oxford educated son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The world hailed this act as the sunrise of democracy in this tiny secluded Himalayan country. But to some quarters this was sham. The New Delhi- based Asian Centre for Human Rights dismissed the socalled transition as “a royal family affair” as this by itself does not promise any democratic reform in the country unless the new King is committed to protecting and promoting human rights of all the citizens without any discrimination.

But the new King, like his father, refused to accept its over 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin who have been languishing as refugees in Nepal in miserable conditions after they fled or were expelled from the country in 1991 for protesting against discrimination and demanding democracy. Any true democracy must be inclusive. But the elections have not included those people who have risen against their king demanding democracy.

Although political parties were allowed registration, there is no political freedom in Bhutan. The government of Bhutan continues to consider all its political dissidents/ protestors as “Ngolop”, anti-nationals.

In a booklet released on 4 October 2007, the Druk National Congress, the opposition in exile, alleged that “Bhutan today is governed as per the King’s wishes, and the day to day official activities of the administration varies according to his personal interests. It is not only the general public, but also government servants who are affected by the King’s nepotism and favoritism.”

The Draft Constitution of Bhutan provides for a two-party system. But any number of political parties can contest the elections in the preliminary rounds and only the two largest vote winning parties can vie for the seats in the final rounds of elections. Between the two parties, the one winning the highest seats will form the government while the other will sit in the opposition.

But the Election Commission of Bhutan effectively ensured that only two parties were registered to contest the general elections to be held in early 2008 by disqualifying the Bhutan People’s United Party on 27 November 2007. Only two political parties - People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) headed by former Prime Minister Sangay Ngedup; and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) headed by former Home Minister Jigmi Y Thinley – have been recognized by the Election Commission to contest the first Parliamentary elections. Both PDP and DPT are king’s supporters. It has been alleged that the Bhutan People’s United Party was denied registration because its leaders do not enjoy support from the king.

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