Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bhutan Votes

In case you missed it, Bhutan had an election a couple of days ago. It was their first one.

Here’s the story:

1. The people didn’t ask for it. As a matter of fact, most said they didn’t want or need it. They like Bhutan the way it has been for a hundred years, a monarchy.

2. The previous king, who abdicated in favor of his son two years ago, said they should have it. The current king carried out his father’s wishes.

3. Many people had to travel long distances to vote, and 79% of those eligible to vote made it to the polls.

4. They elected 47 members of parliament; one party won 44 seats. That was a surprise since there was no discernible difference between the parties. Was it relevant that the leader of the losing party has four sisters, all of whom are married to the young king? I doubt it.

5. For the Bhutanese, how well their country is doing is a function of a unique measure they have devised, Gross National Happiness. They are in the process of quantifying GNH.

6. You gotta love Bhutan!

I first visited Bhutan in 1968, long before they had even a tiny tourist industry. You had to be invited by the King (the current King’s grandfather.) I accompanied our then-Ambassador to India and Bhutan, Chester Bowles. It was an amazing journey. I wrote about that trip some time ago and will post what I had to say in a separate entry.

I didn’t expect to return to Bhutan, but in 2003 I did. It had changed a lot of course, but hadn’t lost its charm or feeling of being at the end of the world – which it is. So I fell in love with Bhutan all over again.

I told our guide, Prem, about my earlier visit and recounted some stories from that time. He’d never met a foreigner who’d been in his country about the time he was born and was totally fascinated by what I had to say. Afterwards, whenever he introduced me to someone or was talking with someone about us, he would identify me as: “This is Mr. Daniel; he had an audience with the late His Majesty.” It was the highest accolade he could bestow.

Will globalization, modernization and tourism irrevocably change Bhutan as we know it? Probably. Yet I am hopeful Bhutan will be true to itself for a long time to come, even though there are worrisome omens. For example, some people want to install Bhutan’s first traffic light. Will that signal (no pun intended) the beginning of the end? And I wonder how that will affect the Gross National Happiness index. Stay tuned . . .


Anonymous an expat in Bhutan said...

Actually, the head of the losing party is the brother of the four queens married to the Fourth King, now in his fifties, who abdicated the throne in favor of his 28-year-old son, the current Fifth King.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

You're right. My mistake. Thanks for the correction.


4:53 PM  

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