Democracy Rising

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" ~ President John F. Kennedy

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Where Is Bhutan Heading?

There's been a flurry of excitement in Bhutan recently, with alleged moves towards Democracy in the tiny Himalayan kingdom. On Sunday, as you may have read, the Monarch there announced his intention to abdicate in 2008, in favour of his son. This will be the year, according to King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, that Bhutan will have it's first parliamentary election. Despite no online record of the referendum necessary to approve this constitution taking place, things seem to be moving forward. But how Democratic will Bhutan become? I've read the draft, as you can here, and things aren't as rosy as some make out.

First of all, a quick look at some well-known human rights organisations data, shows Bhutan is lagging far behind the rest of the world. The tiny nation is ranked 142nd out of 167 in Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Freedom House meanwhile notes the authorities are unwelcoming to criticism of the King.

Now to the constitution. One of the first things that may strike you is, for a constitutional monarch, the amount of power wielded by the King. He can appoint the majority of members to the Privvy council, which is to oversee his actions. He also reserves the right to introduce legislation into the National Assembly.

What is most telling is that Parliament is unable to alter any section of the Article referring to the King. In effect this makes certain parts of the constitution untouchable (something going against the very spirit of democracy). The uneditable articles are not extended to preserving Freedom of Speech or Assembly, more necessary characteristics of Democracy. Worrying.

What is most unique and concerning about this Constitution is it's method for elections. Rather than multiple-parties competing for power, a primary election will occur. This will pit all parties against each other, with the top two going through to the actual ballot. This is likely to entrench a two-party system, with smaller parties (such as a Green Party) unable to fully participate in political life. Whilst the need for stability is understood, the necessity of shutting out so many groups from Parliament is questionable. It has echoes of Fascist Italy, whereby Mussolini created a system where the largest party took 75% of seats. Look how that one turned out.

The Bhutanese constitution is certainly a step in the right direction, idea-wise, yet whether this particular draft will bring about Democracy is certainly questionable...


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