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Bhutan: Local Elections Conducted Successfully – Analysis


By S. Chandrasekharan.

The long awaited local government elections were completed successfully on July 27th. This would thus complete the process of democratisation that was begun with the promulgation of a new constitution and ushering in of democracy three years ago.

Elections were conducted in 205 Geogs of the 20 Dzonkhags for electing local leadership at three levels- the Gups, their deputies Manganis and the Tshogpas.


While the Gups will head the Geogs and Manganis will be the deputies, the most important person will be the “elected representative” at the lowest village level- the Tshogpas.

The Tshogpas may be the lowest level in the hierarchy of the elected bodies but as pointed out by the King himself, he or she will be the nearest and closest level of the government with the people. In a true and democratic tradition they have been elected and not selected. So is the case of the Gups who for the first time have been elected under the new constitution. The institution of Gups as elected representatives play a very crucial and important role in representing the government at the middle level. As the Chief Justice Tobgay pointed out, the Gups in the past played a key role in the preserving the nation’s history and its cultural heritage.

In all 1105 candidates have been elected and there are vacancies for another 370 yet to be filled up. There was only one lone female Gup elected from Tashiding- Namgay Pelku. Interestingly there was a tie in one of the constituencies with both candidates polling the same number of votes!

The Election Commission was justified in proudly announcing that the “Government structure under the Constitution is complete with the critical component of a local government in place”

One would wonder how the two countries Maldives and Bhutan both small countries in comparison to others with both moving into a full-fledged democracy at the same time are faring differently- with Bhutan going about the implementation of the constitution and strengthening of democracy in a very planned seamless way while Maldives is facing enormous problems in moving forward.

It looks that while Bhutan has a benevolent and a guiding hand in the present King and his father Gyalpo 4, in the case of Maldives its former President who was the architect of the new democratic constitution is out to destroy it from within and even nursing ambitions to lead the country once again after having ruled ( that too absolutely) for thirty years before!

Annual Report of the Government and the Refugee Issue:

As is customary, Prime Minister Lyongchen Jigme Y.Thinley presented the annual report of his government to both houses of the parliament on 1st of July. In his 125 page report and four hours long speech he went into great detail on his government’s achievements, challenges and concerns.

He pointed out that Bhutan will continue to grow at 9 to 10 percent from 2011 to 2015. The National Statistics Bureau on the other hand forecast the same growth even for a longer period – upto 2019 though the current rate is only 8.2 percent. This would depend on whether Bhutan would be able to successfully generate 10,000 megawatts of hydro power by 2020. The only flaw in this ambitious projection is that the growth is totally dependent on one market ( India) and one commodity feature ( hydro power).

He promised improvement in infra structure, electricity to every home and improvement in health and education sectors.

He again referred to the controversial issue of funding the political parties which have run into debt after the elections. While the National Assembly is all for funding, the other body, the National Council does not share the same view. A six member “multi sector” committee has been formed by the Council for finding alternate ways to fund the political parties.

What is interesting is that the Prime Minister once again was harping on the bilateral talks on the refugee issue with Nepal when the issue has been already decided with no prospect of Bhutan taking even one refugee back- even those declared to be Bhutanese citizens ( from the Kudenabari camp)

He said and I quote “ The Bhutanese people and the government are extremely grateful to the host countries for having offered a choice for the unfortunate inhabitants of the camps.” One cannot understand why Bhutan should show sympathy now for the poor refugees who have been languishing in the camps for 18 years or more?

The PM continued and said that “ On our part, we have offered to resume bilateral talks on the subject with the government of Nepal” To what purpose should the talks be continued when fifteen rounds of talks could not find a solution and the last meeting was 8 years ago? Why give renewed hopes to the unfortunate few who are waiting for third country settlement?

Bhutan and Gross Happiness Index:

A survey was made recently on the state of happiness in Bhutan in the media ( Gross national happiness index 2010) and its conclusion makes very interesting reading. There is no doubt that the concept of “Gross National Happiness” is catching up in other countries too. This survey is said to be more accurate and representative than the previous one according to Dasho Karma Ura, President of Centre for Bhutan Studies.

* Unmarried Bhutanese, bachelor’s or postgraduate degree holders and monks and nuns are the happiest people in the country.

*Of the 1.3 percent people who are happy in six of the nine domains, 85 percent are men. Wangdue Dzongkhag has the highest number of happy people in the country.

* Dagana, Pemagatshel, and Thimphu are the least happy dzongkhags.

* Around 65 percent of the people unhappy in six of the nine domains are women and 56 percent of the people who are unhappy in six or more domains live in the rural areas. Extreme unhappiness is more pronounced among those between 20 and 65 years of age and among divorcees.

* Farmers seem to suffer less from unhappiness as compared to non-farmers. Dasho Karma Ura explained that this is because farmers are not driven towards accumulating wealth and their source of livelihood is stable.

* 67 percent of women out of a total of 24,000 Bhutanese are suffering from severe mental distress thereby proving how happiness decreases by certain degrees when one experiences psychological distress.

* Data on time spent on work, non-work and sleep also reflect how women work more than men. Women, according to the survey, work for 9.05 hours while men work for 7.85 hours. The happiest people, the survey says, have less work and more leisure and eight hours of sleep.
On time use, data on Thimphu Dzongkhag shows that people spend maximum time without work, while people in Trashiyangtse spend more time at work compared to other dzongkhags.

* 75.89 percent of the households have ‘just enough’ income, while 8.27 percent of the households do not have enough income, 15.84 percent have more than enough.
It shows that the gap between haves and have-nots is higher among the urbanites than those in the rural areas. In urban areas, 79.59 percent of the people are non-poor and 20.41 percent are poor while in the rural areas, 67.51 percent are non-poor and 32.49 percent are poor.

Some of the most important characteristics for a happy life, according to the survey analysis, are high household income, sufficient household appliances, and land.

The most important conclusion of survey was that although financial security and material wealth are the top sources of happiness, a comparison of living standard and its correlation with happiness shows that better living standard does not necessarily contribute to happiness. How true!

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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