As late as the 1960s, the modern world made
its way into Bhutan, which gradually opened up to the
outside world. At the same time, the king wanted to
protect the country's character and in the 1980s a "Bhutanization
campaign" was launched, which led to contradictions with
Nepalese-wealthy residents in the south. Eventually the
king began to prepare for transition to parliamentary
democracy and in 2008 the first election was held.
Up to the 1960s, there were neither modern roads,
hospitals, electricity nor postal services in the
isolated Bhutan. That decade, the third king, Jigme
Dorji Wangchuck, initiated a modernization. The reason
was partly a concern that Bhutan would otherwise face
the same fate as other Buddhist kingdoms in the
Himalayas: Tibet had been invaded by China and Sikkim
was about to enter India.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Bhutan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
When his father died in 1972, 16-year-old Jigme
Singye Wangchuck took office as Bhutan's fourth king. He
launched the concept of "gross national happiness" as a
guiding principle for a careful modernization and
economic development without sacrificing the country's
Buddhist culture and traditions.
In the 1980s, the king began reforms to strengthen
national identity. He felt that Bhutan was becoming too
divided between different cultural identities. In the
south, Nepalese were in the majority and constituted a
growing proportion of the population (see Population and
Languages). At the end of the 1980s, the campaign
intensified. A "Bhutanization program" was adopted,
requiring all residents to observe some traditional
clothing and etiquette. Nepali lost its status as an
official language and teaching in that language ceased
in schools. The government began to apply a citizen law
that at one time made many "Southern Bhutanese"
Refugee camp in Nepal
Protests against the campaign occurred, with both
peaceful demonstrations as well as blast attacks and
screen savages. The army was accused of assaulting the
population in the south. Beginning in 1991, tens of
thousands of Nepalese fled. Most of them ended up in
refugee camps in Nepal, under the auspices of the UN.
Bhutan authorities claimed that they were illegal
immigrants. Nepal refused to accept them. Negotiations
between the countries to resolve the refugee issue began
in 1993 but with no great results. Soon, the number of
refugees was over 100,000.
External pressure contributed to the initiation of
democratization in Bhutan. The king gave up his absolute
power in 1998. The role of head of government went to a
ministerial council with rotating prime minister. In
2001, the king announced that the country would have a
written constitution and that the legislative assembly
would in future be elected by universal suffrage.
The constitutional proposal was rewritten several
times and residents were invited to participate in
discussions about its contents. Eventually it was
decided that parties would be allowed and that the
country should have a parliament with two chambers. A
number of rights were written into the Constitution and
reforms of the judiciary were implemented (see Political
The King abdicated in December 2006 in favor of his
eldest son, 26-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.
Both the change of faith and the cautious
democratization are likely to have been affected by the
events in neighboring Nepal, where the royal power was
rocking and later abolished.
In July 2007, it was announced that the first
elections in the country would be held. The registration
of political parties began at the same time. Only two
parties were approved; a third was not allowed to stand
because the candidates were deemed to lack sufficient
education and the policy was contrary to the "spirit of
the constitution". Thereafter, sample elections were
held with inventive parties so that the population could
become acquainted with the election procedure.
At the turn of the year 2007-2008, elections were
held for the upper house of Parliament, the National
Council, where the 25 members are not allowed to belong
to any political party (see Political system).
In March 2008, elections to the lower house, the
National Assembly followed. It gave Bhutan Peace and
Prosperity Party (DPT) 45 of 47 seats, while the
People's Democratic Party (PDP) got two seats.
That DPT won so much surprised many, as both parties
were loyal to the king and had similar programs. Perhaps
decisive was that the king was believed to support DPT.
Many residents were still questioning the process of
democratization initiated from the highest level and
wondering what it would mean for the Conservative
Kingdom. But the Bhutanese were used to doing as the
king said. The turnout was almost 80 percent.
After the election, a government was formed with DPT
leader Jigme Thinley as prime minister. He held the
rotating post until 2008 as head of government a couple
of times. In July, the country's first written
constitution was formally adopted by the king and the
two newly elected chambers of parliament.
In November 2008, two years after his father
abdicated, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk was
crowned in a magnificent and age-old ceremony in the
According to the original plans, local elections
would also be held in 2008, but they had to be postponed
as necessary legislation was not yet in place. It was
not until September 2009 that Parliament passed an
election law that allowed local and regional elections,
which were then held between January and June 2011. No
parties are allowed to participate in the local
elections, all candidates stand for independence.
In October 2011, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk,
then 31, married a 21-year-old woman of the people,
Jetsun Pema. The wedding ceremony took place according
to an ancient Buddhist ceremony in a monastery from the
17th century. The present was mainly the Bhutanese royal
family, no foreign heads of state or royalty were there.
Thousands of Bhutanese followed the event via national
Corruption scandal and change of government
Shortly before Bhutan was to hold its second election
in history, 2013, the DPT government suffered a setback.
Parliament Speaker Jigme Tshultim and Minister of the
Interior Lyonpo Minjur Dorji were convicted in March of
the same year in a corruption deal involving a disputed
land deal ten years earlier. They were sentenced to two
and a half years and one year in prison, respectively,
with the option of paying fines instead. Thirteen
co-defendants received similar convictions.
In the elections to the upper house, the National
Council, held in April, 67 people were candidates for
the 20 electable seats (see Political system). Only six
sitting members lined up and they were all re-elected.
In the outgoing National Council sat four women; in the
newly elected, no woman was included.
The first round of elections to the National Assembly
was held in May. Two new parties lined up alongside DPT
and PDP, but before the second round in July, only the
two old parties remained. This time, PDP won by a wide
In July 2013, the new PDP government took office with
Tshering Tobgay as prime minister and with Bhutan's
first female minister, Dorji Choden, who was given
responsibility for housing and labor issues. Tshering
Tobgay took a skeptical stance on the well-known
Bhutanese method of measuring the country's economy in
gross domestic happiness (GDP), intended to give a
broader description of the country's condition than
usual GDP. He said in an interview after the accession
that BNL tends to disregard realities such as
corruption, unemployment and budget deficits.