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Empowering the People

His Majesty is one of those conscientious leaders who believes that service to the people comes before everything else. He regularly traveled to each of the Kingdom’s 20 districts, meeting with both people and their representatives, in order to discuss development priorities and needs.

Over the last quarter of the century Bhutanese society has come to depend greatly on His Majesty’s immense leadership abilities. Interestingly, he has always steered the country toward the system of governance that is not dependent on a single individual, saying that such dependence is “the main drawback of a monarchy.”

Empowering the people

His Majesty introduced a program of political change early in his reign in order to reform the system in a measured and cautious way. Programs of both administrative and political decentralization were initiated as soon as His Majesty ascended the throne in. In 1981, Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (District Development Committee), consisting of elected members, was established to decide on the development priorities of individual districts.

In 1991 the process was taken a step further with the establishment of Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (Block Development Committee). These bodies work to promote the democratic processes by giving the responsibilities of decision making to the people at the grassroots level. These bodies became responsibly and voice out their needs and priorities.

The greatest leap in the process of devolution of power took place in 1998. His Majesty commanded the National Assembly to elect a council of Ministers by secret ballot. He directed the National Assembly to devise a new system that would introduce a vote of confidence in the King. The year is a landmark in the history of Bhutan as the reins of governance was headed over to the new cabinet of elected council of Ministers.

The Royal Kasho (edict) issued by His Majesty during the 76th session of the Tshogdu Chhenmo reads: ‘It has been my endeavor to encourage and prepare our people to participate actively and fully in the decision making process of our country…The time has now come to promote even greater people’s participation in the decision making process. Our Country must be ensured to always have a system of governance which enjoys the mandate of the people, provides clean and efficient governance and also an inbuilt mechanism of checks and balances to safeguard our national interests and security. As an important step towards achieving this goal, the Lhengye Zhungtshog, should now be restructured into an elected and effective governance of our country.”

With this edict a six member Cabinet was voted to power by the Tshogdu for a term of five years to be guided by the Chathrim endorsed by the National Assembly. The devolution of power with initiative from the Throne is exemplary. It will without doubt remain a milestone in the history of Bhutan and the world. This is a gift from the wise King to his people.

The people and the National Assembly did not know what to expect of these major political changes. There were strong feelings against the changes as the people wished His Majesty would remain as the head of the government as well as the state. But the Royal edict was irrevocable and the changes were implemented. His Majesty ceased to be the head of the government, although to the relief of the people, he has retained the challenging responsibilities of dealing with the sovereignty and security of the country.

This article is the 6th article in this series of 9 articles titled “Paeans to the King”.

Reprinted from “Paeans to the King”, a free complimentary advertisement booklet with the 11th November 2007 issue of the Bhutan Times.