Monday, March 24

Bhutan's transition to democracy

Bhutan held its National Assembly elections this Monday completing the transition to democracy as announced in 2005. The secluded hermit kingdom with a very young king would now be a constitutional monarchy.

However, the transition has not been smooth with bomb blasts preceding the elections in January and February; and protests and demands for return by the refugees living in Nepal. Bhutan has consistently refused to take them back though it agreed that some of them had a right to return. These exiles are unwanted in Nepal, Bhutan and India. India is said have chased them away every time they tried to enter, probably due to their large numbers (approx. 105,000 in Nepal alone), and experience with the Bangladeshi refugees. However, Nepalis and Bhutanese are otherwise allowed unrestricted access into India.

While Bhutan has showed commitment to its transition to democracy it might be bumpy road ahead.
  1. It is a very small country almost sandwiched between China and India. The recent protests in Tibet, and the resulting Chinese reaction in the days to come could have a spill over effect into the country given its vulnerability, and Buddhist majority.
  2. The high levels of unemployment and poverty; proximity to Nepal, North-East India and the security tensions there; unrestricted movement of people between it and India; and poor security capability could turn it into a safe haven for terrorists.
  3. It could now come under greater scrutiny from human rights organizations, especially when dealing with the Nepali exiles. The issue would also have to be resolved in time to avoid further possibly violent protests and unrest.
  4. Being new to the system could provide ample opportunity for corruption along the way to institutionalizing democracy.
One can only hope that the promise shown by these elections will be delivered, and a peaceful democracy will flourish in the lap of the Himalayas.

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