An engaging session entitled ‘Democratizing Shangri-La’, which gave an overview of the transition to Democracy in Bhutan was presented by H.E. Dr Sonam Kinga, Chairperson of the National Council, Parliament of Bhutan, on 6 November 2013 at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Auditorium, New Delhi. Dr. Kinga went on to deliver the same talk in Kolkata the next day at the Bengal Chamber Building. The events were hosted The Thimphu Seminars in partnership with the Ananta Aspen Centre (formerly Aspen Institute India).
The first Buddhist government in Bhutan was founded in 1626, under the leadership of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Monarchy was established in 1907 it was viewed as a symbol of change and progress rather than a system based on the idea of ‘divine rights.’ In the last few years, the democratic transition in Bhutan has been substantially peaceful, with the monarchy itself providing impetus to the process. Bhutan witnessed its first general elections in 2008, which were followed by a peaceful and smooth transfer of power in the 2013 polls.
The talk traced the trajectory of a wide range of factors that have triggered democratisation in Bhutan. There was widespread advocacy spearheaded by the growing middle class for a regime change. Dr. Kinga asserted that catalysing the change were also class conflicts and popular social movements, which brought to the forefront debate on successful monarchy versus loss of legitimacy in governance.
Dr. Kinga highlighted positive political changes witnessed in Bhutan and also outlined some of the key challenges facing democratisation in the country: positioning the monarchy vis-à-vis democracy and bridging the relationship between central and local governments. There is a need to tackle electoral corruption, and transform the mindset where alternative and opposing views are regarded as unpatriotic and disloyal. Strengthening the democratic process also requires steps that promote education and awareness among citizens on different facets of democracy since it is viewed differently by various strata of society.