July 07, 2007Rahul Bhonsle
Addressing the inaugural meeting of the 87th session of the National Assembly on 7 June, the King of Bhutan said that the historic transition of the country to democracy is something all Bhutanese must take great pride in. The King reminded the Assembly members that this generation in Bhutan's history carried the sacred duty of ensuring the success of the democratic transition and every person must play his or her part in the coming elections. He encouraged all those who had the skills, experience and desire to serve the country as politicians, to come forward. With the start of the political process, Bhutan's 20 dzongkhags and 205 gewogs would be divided into 47 constituencies with many political parties and candidates. But the election process is facing problems driven by lack of adequate awareness of the democratic processes in the people. Thus very few people are reported to have declared their intention to contest in the 2008 elections. As of 15 June, only 13 candidates had planned to contest for the National Council and so far it is largely one candidate a dzongkhag. The National Council will compose of 20 directly elected members and 5 eminent persons appointed by the Druk Gyalpo. For the National Assembly elections, only a dozen possible candidates have declared their interests. Four political parties have been confirmed to run for the elections in 2008, but none of the party has finalized their candidates. Each party would have to look for 47 candidates for the 47 constituencies to the Assembly. As a corollary five serving cabinet ministers are "seriously contemplating" on joining politics but have not identified which party to join, according to the trade and industry minister, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba. "We have not promised our assurance to any party," said the minister after the Assembly session. This is the mountain kingdoms first elections and there would be a number of candidates who are likely to be elected unopposed. This is the general trend in emerging democracies, when people are not fully aware of the advantages and power of an elected public office. Thus lack of response of candidates to come forward to participate in the elections should not be a major concern. On the flip side is the perceived rise of Communists as media reports indicated ongoing investigations of 13 people who had joined the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) based in Jhapa, Nepal, by the Royal Bhutan Police in Samtse revealed that they were involved in several subversive activities to start an armed rebellion against the government. Detonators and other materials used for making improvised explosive devices were recovered from the group that the Samtse police apprehended on May 25. The Communist party of Bhutan is alleged to be closely associated with the Maoist Party of Nepal . The Bhutan Tiger Force, which is the militant wing of the Communist Party of Bhutan, was allegedly responsible for planting several explosive devices in Phuentsholing town. Police said that the 13 people would be charged under the Bhutan Penal Code and the National Security Act as per Phuntso Wangdi's report in Kuensel Online. Bhutan has been wary of the activities of communist party cadres which are said to be in league with the Maoists in Nepal. As this is the only direct threat to monarchy in the country, the police are extremely sensitive to any political activity which has a communist overtone and is known to come down with a heavy hand.On the whole however, the enlightened approach of the Bhutanese monarchy to democracy is to be lauded. This will set the course for democratisation of the country smoothly. However the attitude of the government towards minority Nepalis who have been evicted from the country is a matter of concern. At present they are refugees with no government ready to accept them and the offer by the US to absorb has been rejected by the community which feels that it is discriminatory.
Rahul K Bhonsle is a veteran soldier and security analyst based in South Asia, specializing in strategic risk prediction, future warfare and human security. He has a number of publications to his credit and is also Editor of South Asia Security Trends, a monthly trend analyser on South Asia. His web site is www.security-risks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org