Bhutan country brief
System of governmentThe Kingdom of Bhutan's first democratic elections were held in December 2007 for the National Council, Bhutan's upper house. This was followed by elections for the National Assembly, Bhutan's lower house, on 24 March 2008.
The move toward democracy began in 2000, when the Fourth King decreed that day-to-day affairs would be handled by a council of ministers. In December 2006, the King abdicated power to his eldest son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (who was crowned Fifth King on 6 November 2008), ahead of the implementation of major political reforms. A 39- member Constitution Drafting Committee was appointed by the Fourth King to draft the country's first written Constitution. The Constitution was intended to transform the absolute monarchy into a democratic system.
The 24 March 2008 ElectionsMock elections were held in April-May 2007 to educate the public on democratic processes. Following eections for the National Council on 31 December 2007, elections for the National Assembly, the lower house which determines the government, were held on 24 March 2008. Two political parties, the People's Democratic Party and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Bhutan Harmony Party-DPT), contested the elections. Voters delivered a landslide victory to the DPT, which took 45 out of the 47 seats in the National Assembly.
Economic overviewThe guiding principle of Bhutan's economic development is Gross National Happiness rather than increased Gross Domestic Product. The four pillars underlying GNH are good governance, inclusive development, conservation and preservation of Bhutan's unique culture.
Bhutan has a history of fiscal prudence and good governance, very little debt and is assisted by the nominal anchor provided by the currency peg to the Indian rupee. Bhutanese products enjoy free access to the large Indian market and India is Bhutan's main trade and development assistance partner.
Bhutan is likely to see significant revenue as new hydropower projects become operational. Steep mountains and swift flowing rivers make hydropower production a natural fit in Bhutan. Close ties between Bhutan and India have provided the necessary political will to bring such projects to fruition and also a market for Bhutan's power as India has a large energy deficit.
Bhutan's Tenth Five Year Plan (2008-2013), launched in February 2008, has a central focus of poverty reduction. The strategic priorities under this plan are:
- Encouraging industrial development;
- Promotion of balanced regional development;
- Integrated rural and urban development for poverty alleviation;
- Expanding strategic infrastructure;
- Investing in human capital; and
- Fostering good governance.
- achieving an 80 per cent national literacy rate;
- lowering the infant mortality rate of 20 per 1000;
- increasing the average life expectancy to over 70;
- providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 95 and 96 per cent of the population respectively;
- providing electricity to 84 per cent of the rural population; and
- achieving a 15 per cent penetration rate for telecommunications across all districts.
Australia's then Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance Mr Bob McMullan visited Bhutan in April 2010 to meet representatives of Bhutan's Government and represent Australia as an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit. Mr McMullan met King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and members of Bhutan's Government including Prime Minister Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thinley during his visit. Mr McMullan reiterated Australia's commitment to continue to support Bhutan as it consolidates democracy and works to achieve the MDGs. Mr McMullan also launched Australia's $1 million assistance program for earthquake recovery to be delivered through UNICEF (further details below).
A Bhutanese Parliamentary delegation visited Australia in 2009 and met Australian parliamentarians and members of the Australian Bhutanese community. Representatives of the Australian Parliament visited Bhutan in 2010.
The then Foreign Minister of Bhutan, and now Prime Minister, Lyonpo Jigme Y. Thinley, visited Australia from 1 to 6 June 2003, accompanied by then Foreign Secretary and now Foreign Minister Ms Catherine Harris AO PSM, who is based in Sydney, is the Honorary Consul for Bhutan in Australia. Bhutan's Ambassador in Bangkok is accredited to Australia.
In September 2008, Mr Tim Fischer was appointed as Australia's Special Envoy to Bhutan. Mr Fischer has a long-standing personal association with Bhutan and has visited on several occasions. He co-authored a book about Bhutan entitled “Bold Bhutan Beckons” which was published in 2009.
An Australia-Bhutan Friendship Association (ABFA) was launched on 3 March 2003 in Thimphu to promote information exchanges and networking between the people of the two countries.
Bilateral Aid ProgramAustralia has a long standing bilateral aid program in Bhutan, which was first established under the Colombo Plan. A large number of Bhutanese officials have received education or training in Australia. Over the past few years new areas of bilateral cooperation have developed including agricultural research, training for police officers, electoral assistance, assistance to Bhutan's vocational education sector and forestry planning.
Australia will provide an estimated $5.3 million in total aid flows to Bhutan in 2010-11. Most of this assistance will be in the form of Australian Development Scholarships. For further information refer to the website of AusAID.
Australia has supported the World Food Program School Feeding Program in Bhutan since 2001. This program has been successful in improving school attendance and providing children with valuable nutrients.
In 2010 Australia provided Bhutan with $1 million to assist with reconstruction efforts following a major earthquake in September 2009. The money has been distributed through UNICEF and used to rebuild and improve water and sanitation facilities in schools in the affected district.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has been working with Bhutan to improve mandarin production (Bhutan's largest horticultural export). The project is being implemented in collaboration with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and focuses on the production of disease-free planting material, pest and disease control and best-practice production techniques.
Updated October 2010