The Great Fourth - Father of Democracy

The Great Fourth – Father of Democracy

While the contributions of His Majesty the Fourth King cuts across several themes and subjects, His Majesty was very instrumental in transforming Bhutan to a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy.

From a very young age, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyaplo took on very important responsibilities and the reign of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo is known as the “Golden Era” in the history of modern Bhutan. Within few decades, the country achieved what took centuries for other countries. The contributions of His Majesty are of epical proportions and it is difficult to single out one field as the main contribution of His Majesty. However, a prominent contribution of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo is in the area of governance, whereby His Majesty gradually established the foundations for democracy and ensured the successful transition of Bhutan from an Absolute Monarchy to a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy.

Since taking on the sacred responsibilities of King, His Majesty had emphasized on the importance of people’s participation in development. His Majesty firmly believed and said that: “The destiny of the nation lies in the hands of the people….” His Majesty wanted to grant power and governance to people at the grassroots. In the 1980s itself, His Majesty had desired that Bhutan should become a constitutional democracy.

The institution of decentralized planning provided His Majesty the platform to plan the process of democracy. The establishments of the Dzongkhang Yargay Tshogchung (DYT) and the Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (GYT) in 1981 and 1991 respectively facilitated participation of people in development. Additionally, these served as the foundations for the transition to a democracy.

On June 10, 1998, His Majesty issued a Kasho further delegating his executive powers with the establishment of the Council of Ministers. This is another watershed in the history of Bhutan’s evolution to a democracy. The same year saw His Majesty reintroducing the system of registering the vote-of-no-confidence against the King. His Majesty said, “It is my wish that the National Assembly will decide about the system of casting vote-of-no-confidence against the Druk Gyalpo to strengthen the system of government.” The Druk Gyalpo was to resign from the Throne in favour of the Crown Prince or any other legitimate successor, if three-fourth of the National Assembly members cast the no confidence votes.

The National Assembly Members were reluctant to accept this proposal, but His Majesty insisted saying that “whether I or any other future King or even the institution of monarchy itself is wanted or not rest in the hands of our people.” When the National Assembly finally approved the vote-of-no-confidence motion, His Majesty declared, “We saw the destiny of Bhutan being handed over to the Bhutanese people on the most sacred sense.” His Majesty was gradually but steadily bringing about a significant change in the system of governance and the final aim was the transition to a democracy.

One year later, on July 26, 1999, the National Assembly enacted the Lhengye Zhungtshog Act 1999. The Lhengye Zhungtshog comprised of the elected Ministers, members of the Royal Advisory Council and the Kalyon. While Royal Advisory Councillors were elected as per the Royal Advisory Council Act, the ministers were elected by National Assembly members from a list nominated by His Majesty. The ministerial candidates securing 51 percent and above of the votes cast through secret ballot were considered elected. The tenure of the ministers was for five years and the Act specifies that a member shall not serve for more than two terms. The Chairman of the Lhengye Zhungtshog was an elected minister. However, it was rotated amongst the ministers after one year.

The Great Fourth - Father of Democracy

The establishment of the Lhengye Zhungtshog and election of the ministers was another step towards democracy. Ministers in Bhutan were elected by National Assembly members for the very first time. The Fourth Druk Gyalpo was carefully taking the nation and its people towards a new political system.The Royal edict to draft a written Constitution of September 4, 2001 and the subsequent formation of the drafting committee were the next steps. While these developments were taking place, His Majesty ensured that people were also introduced to aspects of democracy, such as elections/voting and Acts (Chathrims). In 2002, local leaders were elected through universal suffrage and the DYT and GYT Chathrims were introduced. Power was further devolved to the people. People were also prepared for the transition gradually. By October 2005, His Majesty and the Crown Prince Chhotse Penlop Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck began the public discussions on the Constitution. This was followed by the declaration during the National Day Celebrations of 2005 at Trashiyangtse. His Majesty announced that he would soon abdicate and that democratic elections would be held in 2008. On December 9, 2006, His Majesty abdicated. 

Subsequently, His Majesty established new constitutional bodies like the Election Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission and Office of the Attorney General. In December 2007, a new chapter was written in Bhutan’s history. The elections for the National Council (NC) were held. It recorded a turnout of 53.14 percent and NC members from the 20 districts were elected. Following this, the National Assembly elections were held on March 24, 2008. The turnout was 80 percent.

 Bhutan’s first elected government was formed.

His Majesty had realized his Vision.

Her Majesty Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck – Mother Nature’s Dedicated and Devoted Champion 

Her Majesty, Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck was born at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu on June 4, 1990. On October 13, 2011, the Royal Wedding was held, making her the Nation’s Queen. On February 5, 2016, Her Majesty gave birth to His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck and on March 19, 2020, the second Gyalsey, His Royal Highness Jigme Ugyen Wangchuck, was born.

Her Majesty Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck is actively involved in several programs that positively impacts the lives of people and complement endeavors of the government in achieving significant national goals. Her Majesty is Royal Patron of the Ability Bhutan Society (ABS), and President of the Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS), Additionally, Her Majesty is involved in other social programs which are carried out under the Queen’s Project. The One Gewog One Product (OGOP) is one such project.

A significant area where Her Majesty continues to guide and inspire is the environment. As Royal Patron of the Environment, Her Majesty works closely with the National Environment Commission, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, and other government and non-government agencies on conservation, waste management and other important environmental matters. Her Majesty’s commitment and tireless support as the Royal Patron of Environment fortifies Bhutan’s cause for environment protection. Her Majesty is also an Honorary Member of the WWF-US Board of Directors.

 In May 2012, Her Majesty was presented the Ozone Ambassadorship by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) at the Regional celebration of the Montreal Protocol’s 25th anniversary in Thimphu, which was attended by delegates from over 30 countries. During the event, a Plaque of recognition was offered by UNEP to Her Majesty and the people of Bhutan in appreciation of the country’s contribution to the Montreal Protocol goals.

Since then, Her Majesty has constantly endeavored to advocate and initiate programs within Bhutan to protect the Ozone layer. Celebrating the Ozone Day in 2014, Her Majesty launched the Water Regulation of Bhutan 2014 and the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) program.

In 2017, as Bhutan commemorated the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol, Her Majesty inaugurated Bhutan’s first “Ozone Park”.  Motithang Park in Thimphu was declared the “Ozone Park”.

In 2013, Her Majesty launched the Jigme Khesar Environmental Research Fund. During the event Her Majesty said that it is the responsibility of every Bhutanese citizen to ensure that Bhutan’s rich biodiversity remains abound for future generations to come. Her Majesty called for all Bhutanese to strive and preserve this endowment through sustainable actions. The Fund plays a very vital role in encouraging and supporting environmental research in the country.

A major milestone in Bhutan’s environmental history was launched by Her Majesty in 2017. Coinciding with the birth anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Her Majesty  launched the Bhutan for Life initiative, a joint initiative of the government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), worth USD 43M (Nu 2.8 billion). It is a strategic and long-term solution to ensure that Bhutan remains economically and environmentally sustainable and the first such initiative in South Asia. The initiative ensures that there is sustainable funding to properly manage Bhutan’s protected areas. With the launch of BFL, the burden on the government exchequer for conservation expenses is expected to be significantly lessened, which will allow governments of the future to focus on the social sectors, the economy, and other pressing needs.

The importance placed by Her Majesty on environment is evident by the fact that Her Majesty constantly attends functions and events related to environment, such as the World Environment Day. At these functions, Her Majesty persistently conveys messages on the importance of protecting the environment and the roles every individual can play. The Royal Patronage becomes a strong inspirational force to others working for the same cause.

During the World Environment Day of 2016, Her Majesty inaugurated the Thimphu Eco Park. The same day saw the launch of Bhutan State of Environment Report, Guideline for Institutionalizing Paperless Operations in Government 2016, and the Water Risk Scenarios and Opportunities for Resilient Development.

The Guideline for Institutionalizing Paperless Operations in Government Offices 2016 aims to provide general and specific tips and recommendations for deploying paperless initiatives across the offices of the Royal Government of Bhutan. The Water Risk Scenarios and Opportunities for Resilient Development is the product of the first-ever exercise in Bhutan that highlights the role of freshwater in the country’s economy. It also explores multiple scenarios shoeing how key water-reliant sectors could evolve over the next two decades and the implications, tradeoffs, risks and opportunities to manage the risks.

On June 2, 2019, coinciding with the coronation day of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, which is celebrated as Social Forestry Day in Bhutan, Her Majesty launched the “My waste, my responsibility,” concept. This was the precursor of “Zero Waste Hour,” a move that would enable Bhutan to become a Zero Waste Society by 2030. Since then, offices and organizations around Bhutan observe the second day of every month as “Zero Waste Hour.” It instills behavioral change for proper waste management and encourages people to practice sustainable consumption lifestyle, by inculcating a sense of social responsibility.

During the World Environment Day of 2021 Her Majesty launched four significant National Actions for the environment: Bhutan’s Second Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); Third National Communication (TNC) of Bhutan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) for Food Security, Human Settlement, Surface Transport and Industries, and the National Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) under the Convention on Biological Diversity. These are policy documents reaffirming Bhutan’s commitment to environment preservation, while highlighting strategies undertaken to do so.

The second NDCs reiterate Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon neutral, and calls for support from the international community in implementing Bhutan’s climate efforts. Bhutan’s TNC to the UNFCCC presents an inventory of Greenhouse Gases emissions and the actions to mitigate them and adaptation strategies undertaken to face the impacts of climate change. The LEDs are 30-year strategies spread across short, medium and long-term time horizons with prioritized climate actions for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The CHM provides information related to biodiversity at a national level, which would promote and facilitate scientific and technical cooperation for awareness, effective decision making and implementation of national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

By Ugyen Tenzin