Sunday, March 23, 2008

Royal Democracy in Bhutan

Tomorrow, Bhutan becomes a democracy. This event occurs through the active development and encouragement of the young, progressive monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, and especially his father, former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The latter introduced the idea of Gross National Happiness as a replacement for thinking of development in the reductive terms of GDP (here's a paper by colleague Carol Graham on the economics of happiness). The monarchy has decided that, in the best interests of the country, democratic government is a better form as long as democracy does not equal rampant, unfettered capitalism (as Americans often confuse the two).

As always regarding Bhutan, there are lessons to be learned for the rest of the world.
Two main political parties are vying for votes. They are the Druk Pheunsum Tshogpa, or DPT, with its slogan of "Growth with equity and justice," and the People's Democratic Party, or PDP, with the slogan "Service with humility. Walk the talk."

Analysts say there are few ideological differences between the two parties. And both have a leader who served two terms as prime minister under the monarchy. The head of the party that wins a majority of the 47 parliamentary seats will become the country's first elected prime minister.

One candidate accused his opponent's wife of donating a butter lamp, a traditional gift used to burn butter or oil, to a monastery to win the support of monks, who hold powerful sway in villages. Another candidate criticized the opposing party for its yellow campaign logo -- yellow is the royal family's color.

"We were very happy before this election, because the country was peaceful," said Thugi Dema, 50, as she chewed a clump of betel leaf that turned her teeth bright red. She flashed a button showing the king's face, pinned to her traditional dress. "We don't need this tiresome campaigning. It's not our culture."

Bhutan has been taking a prudent route towards both democracy and modernization. They're doing so with great intelligence, and the country is a fascinating study in economy managed by more important noneconomic values. But the strains on the society due to the introduction especially of television are like other countries and regions that have undergone rapid changes from traditional modes of life to consumerist societies driven by the neoclassical ideology of economic growth, especially the reproduction of consumer desires.

The Himalayan countries/regions - Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and Kashmir - are very special places on this planet. Places of great beauty, gentleness, and profoundly fascinating ideas of the good life crossed by violence (except, thus far, for Bhutan) and the uprooting of simple ways of life through the pressures of the global economy. From my tiny blogging perch, I wish Bhutan the greatest success.

[The Bhutanese photographer above, Thinley Namgyel, is a former student - a very sharp, interesting man working on environmental policy. Please pay his website a visit and check out the photos and links].

1 comment:

MT said...

Very interesting and cool. I really want to see how this one goes. I hope they can be a model for a happier Nepal.