Forget democracy, we want the king

I love democracy and would like to see more countries adopt it. But before we ask citizens of a countryBhutan
to vote in an election, perhaps we should let them vote on whether they really want to vote. If democracy ran against monarchy in a free and fair election, it would be trounced like Michael Dukakis in at least one country: Bhutan. (If you’ve never heard of Bhutan, don’t feel bad. Angelina Jolie hasn’t yet adopted a child from there.)

THIMPHU, Bhutan — Kuenzang Dorji has an unusual problem.

As interim prime minister of Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist monarchy wedged
between China and India, he is responsible for educating 632,000
citizens on the nuts and bolts of democracy before the country’s first
national election next year.

But most Bhutanese would rather keep their king.

Largely mountainous, Bhutan is one of the world’s most isolated
nations, with few foreign companies, an overwhelmingly rural economy
and a lack of basic infrastructure. 

Even during the peak travel season, just two flights arrive at the
country’s sole airport each day. In Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, the
first stoplight installed was removed several years ago after residents
complained it conflicted with local culture.

"Bhutan has enjoyed unprecedented progress, peace and prosperity,
and that was all because of the good governance of (King Jigme Singye
Wangchuk), so people have no reason to want a change in the running of
the country," Dorji said. [Link]

Bhutan may be a poor country, but it’s faring well in what the king calls "gross national happiness." You don’t have to be rich to be happy, at least that’s what I’ve heard.

Many in Bhutan are skeptical of democracy and say dividing
communities along political lines is already causing conflict ahead of
elections in February and March.

"Backbiting, scorn and suspicion have clearly become the order of
the day," a Bhutanese newspaper recently said about politicking in
Rangjung, a town near the Indian border. [Link]

Instead of saying "The king is great!" and "Long live the king!" people are saying, "The liberals suck!" and "The conservatives blow!" Well, not exactly, but you get the point. People are suddenly divided and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets called a macaca.

Last December, Jigme, who ruled this country for more than 30 years,
announced that he was abdicating in favor of his 26-year-old son, Jigme
Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

The prospect of self-governance seemed to send shivers down many
spines here. Why have politicians? people wanted to know. Wasn’t the
king always supposed to know what is best for his people and guide them
accordingly? Couldn’t they see what democracy had wrought on
neighboring countries? [Link]

Why have politicians? That’s a question that’s being asked in a lot of countries these days, almost as often as "Why have erectile dysfunction?"

"The going is good," said Tshering Tobgay, 42, a retired civil
servant who is working with a former cabinet minister to start the
People’s Democratic Party. "We want more of the same." [Link]

"More of the same" isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it? After all, Americans wanted "more of the same" in 2004 and they got … okay, bad example.

Photo by Graham King

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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