December 19, 2005Foreign Affairs

Bhutan’s king to step down in favour of democracy

A king and a happy man

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk sprung a surprise on his subjects when he announced that ahead of Bhutan’s transition into a constitutional monarchy in 2008, he would step down in favour of his son, Crown Prince Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck sometime before that.

The king’s decision is both wise and pragmatic. His decision to move Bhutan towards a constitutional democracy is based on the realisation that this was the tiny country’s best chance for survival as an sovereign nation in an age of openness and globalisation. Bhutan is too small and too remote to sustain any significant disenchantment with the monarchy; political instability will tear the country apart, and under such circumstances, a Sikkim-like outcome is not too far fetched. Bhutan’s attempts to carve out a monoculture (as a result of forced demographic change) and its move towards consitutional democracy are both attempts to protect its sovereignty.

It is extremely unusual for kings to step down in favour of anyone. The rule is for them to clutch on to the throne even at their deathbeds. But transfering power to the next generation, even when the first generation is in full control of its facilities, is a good way to ensure that the dynasty itself remains in power.

King Wangchuk’s actions are intended to ensure the survival of both his kingdom and his dynasty. The contrast with the other Himalayan king cannot be more stark.

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