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Decoding Bhutan’s Political History

Lho Men Jong, meaning “southern land of darkness,” which we today know as Bhutan. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy country where the monarch is known as Druk Gyalpo (the Dragon King). Bhutan is the only South Asian country where the carbon footprint is zero. It is a country situated in the eastern Himalaya and shares its borders with both Tibet (an autonomous region governed by China) and India. For both India and China Bhutan is an important region, and the upcoming elections are quite important for both countries.

An illustration of Bhutan's election process

Illustration by The Geostrata


It is fascinating to look at Bhutan's political history and how the people of Bhutan never gave a second chance to any political party to rule Bhutan. Also, we would analyze the rise of a new party, the Bhutan Tendrei Party. Can we expect the same tradition to carry on, or can we see something new happen?


The first General election took place in 2008 in which Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) won the election by 44 out of 47 seats.

If you take a look at the below table, there are a total of 5 political parties that were founded at different times. Each party got only a single chance to govern the state.

POLITICAL PARTY

IDEOLOGY

RULING PERIOD

PRIME MINISTER

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)

Centre - Right (Conservative)

2008-2013

Jigme Thinley

People's Democratic Party (PDP)

Centre - Left (Progressive)

2013-2018

Tshering Tobgay

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT)

Centrist (Conservative + Progressive)

2018-Present

Lotay Tshering

Bhutan Tendrei Party (BTP)

-

-

-

Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT)

-

-

-

It is quite astonishing to see that the citizens of Bhutan didn’t give a second chance to the previous government and chose a new and rising party.


ELECTION PROCESS IN BHUTAN


A country which follows parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy has a unique election process. In Bhutan, elections take place in two parts : 


A) Stage 1: The Primary Level where the two new parties would contest with already existing parties who were already in power.

The two parties who would get the majority vote would get an opportunity to start the campaign. 

B) Stage 2: The Secondary Level, in this stage the two political parties who got the maximum votes would contest the election. The candidates would fight against each other. As per the result, the party who got the majority vote would come to power and the rest would sit as an opposition.


Unlike India, where one political party gets many chances to rule the country. These political parties win the general elections with a heavy majority. But when it comes to Bhutan, the citizens of Bhutan believe changes. Some of the reason we can here come up with are:


1. Bhutanese want change: If we observe each and every election held till date in Bhutan, the different political parties came to power. The Benefit – low chance of corruption, better policies are been offered by new parties, people with new perspectives are given a chance. These factors would lead to more development of the country and the new approaches would be employed to address the challenges the country currently faces.


2. An environment of Competition: Politics is about winning elections, gaining power and put influence along with support the political parties get from people/citizens. Due to Bhutanese desire to change their government in every general election, there is a competition among the political parties to win the upcoming election.


3. Unable to reach the goal: As per the promises, the previous governments somehow were not that efficient in developing the country. As per the data released by the Royal Monetary Authority, 


The foreign reserves of Bhutan have downed from $1.46 billion to $970 million. Also, the reports claimed that the country’ external debt before the COVID-19 was $2.7 billion which now rose to $3.2 billion in the year 2022.

Apart from this, due to short on foreign reserves, Bhutan’s constituency passed a mandate to generate enough foreign reserves to meet 14 months import.


4. Tension on Borders: Landlocked between Asia's two big powers who also have the biggest economy in Asia, Bhutan has become a strategically important location to both India and China.


This importance has become more important especially after the Doklam conflict. For India, Bhutan which shares its borders with 3 states of India (namely – West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) is a “Buffer” state and it is also close to NER (North East Region).

The interesting thing is that China too wants to take Bhutan under its wings and eventually fails. Bhutan has always respected India’s concerns for border security and hence refused to join hands with China. To attract Bhutan, China used both persuasive (like recognising Bhutan as a sovereign state) and Coercion methods like not joining the BRI project or accepting grants and new trade routes. Due to the Doklam conflict, the Bhutanese feel that they are stuck between the conflicts and are threatening the border security of the country.


THE BOTTOM LINE


At the end, let us now analyze Bhutan’s political parties who never gave a second chance to the to govern the state, Apart from this, the rise of two new political parties in Bhutan. One party is led by Dasho Pema Chewang, an ex-civil servant who has resigned from his position and formed a party - Bhutan Tendrei Party (BTP) in 2023.


Another political party - Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) formed under the leadership of Kinga Tshering. The party was formed in the month of August 2022 after splitting away from DPT in the month of May, 2022. Both the parties are working hard on ground zero and spreading their influence and presence in the country.

It has been observed that new parties come to the power. If we observe the political history of Bhutan, in 2008, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) which was formed an year 2007, formed its government next year i.e. in 2008. This government didn’t have a second chance to form the government in next election. Similarly in 2013, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) formed the government. The party was formed in year 2013. It’s coincident or whatever one might claim. The election this year in indeed full of excitement and uncertainty. 


But the main point is that do we get to see the same tradition to follow or can we expect new changes. From the beginning or we can say when democracy was established, the same pattern has been followed. The new party always forms the government and the previously existing parties sit in opposition.


Bhutan, a landlocked country which is stuck between two powerful Asian countries – India and China, somehow wants resolution between both the countries.

The major issue with the Doklam region is that, Due to the strategic location of Doklam, it is important for India and China. But, Bhutan being closest to Doklam has become a problem. The Bhutanese believe that they are under a threat due to the Doklam conflict. Also, politically Bhutan has maintained a diplomatic and neutral policy.


Tshering has been troubled by the dragon as it continuously slices off the territories of Bhutan. Many of the western frontiers (the frontiers that are close to Doklam) and northern frontiers (near Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys) have been claimed by the dragon.


In short, the party that wins the elections will have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders to protect the country and not lose land to The Dragon. The current government does follow a neutral approach, but the new parties seem to favor China, and people in Bhutan seem to be supporting it.

So, at the end, we can see and observe that the new political parties may not favor India and its concerns with China and national border security. The relationship between India and Bhutan may become sour in the near future.


 

BY PULOMA PAL

TEAM GEOSTRATA

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