August 09, 2020
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Shangrila Panchayat

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Shangrila Panchayat
A small step for democracy, but a giant leap forward for the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The first draft of a new constitution which ushers in parliamentary democracy is ready and will soon be debated in the National Assembly. The choices before the Bhutanese people are three: a full-blooded, multi-party democracy, or basic democracy as defined by the late Ayub Khan of Pakistan, or a guided democracy a la Suharto of Indonesia.

Kunley Tshering, member-secretary of the 39-member constitution drafting committee, provides a guarded answer: "His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk is keen that Bhutan evolve as a parliamentary democracy sooner rather than later. But there are several models and we have to accommodate features that suit our people the best." Adds Dawa Tsering, former foreign minister of the kingdom: "If democracy takes root in the world’s last remaining Shangrila, King Jigme will become a constitutional monarch by choice.

He wants real power to go to his people. With its small population (700,000), Bhutan is ideally suited for grassroots democracy." Surprising though it may sound, Bhutan’s impending tryst with its democratic destiny is all thanks to the wishes of its reigning monarch.

The draft constitution envisages an elected, three-tier administrative set up—village and district councils, the National Assembly and, finally, the monarch at the top. It is hardly likely that Bhutan will opt for a multi-party democracy. In all probability, the Himalayan kingdom’s brand of democracy would give more power to the people but with the King very much in focus.

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