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Willisms

« Charlie Rangel, Theologian. | WILLisms.com | Comparing Social Security Reform Proposals. »

More On Bhutan's Democratic Reforms.

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In March, Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuk announced democratic reforms for his tiny country, which is nestled between China and India.

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While some commentators in the region are skeptical about democracy flourishing in such an isolated country, others believe Bhutan displays very real promise.

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King Wangchuk, age 49, seems intent on striking a balance between Bhutan's traditional way of life and the fast pace of modern progress, noting:

"The sovereignty, stability and well-being of the country must be placed above everything else. The country is more important than the king."

We're skeptical, given the government's tight grip on cultural matters. But we're not cynical, given Bhutan's subtle advances toward freedom over the past decade.

For now, we'll trust Wangchuk, somewhat.

But, as Ronald Reagan would say, we'll verify.

Freedom House reports that, in recent years, Bhutan has taken strides to improve its political rights and civil liberties, but repression remains high, earning the country a stamp of "NOT FREE":


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The move is in the right direct, however, which gives Wangchuk some semblance of credibility.

The BBC notes that exiled Bhutanese groups are even more skeptical of the still-ethereal reform proposals:

The National Front For Democracy coalition said the royal government was trying to impress foreign donors, but was planning only "limited democracy"....

The NFD, a coalition of three exiled Bhutanese political groups, told the BBC there could be no democracy in Bhutan until the refugees returned home.

Meanwhile, recent news out of the Mountain Kingdom involves the implementation of a total ban on tobacco sales in Bhutan:

Along with outlawing plastic bags and secondhand cars, Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom nestled in the clouds between China and India, has become the first country in the world to completely ban tobacco sales. Bhutan’s National Assembly imposed the crackdown last July, and the law went into effect last December....

The problem Bhutan faces is how to enforce the no-smoking policy. There will be a hefty $225 fine for smoking in public or buying or selling tobacco. Bhutanese can bring their own tobacco into the country for use at home, but must pay a 100 percent tax on it.

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One wonders whether the ban on tobacco will withstand the test of democracy. Moreover, questions linger as to whether or not democracy itself will be approved by the people.

You can read the entire 54-page document here:

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (draft, in .pdf format).

Take a look at Article 7, in particular (click for larger versions):

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Bhutan's proposed constitution is ambitious, bordering on too ambitious. The beauty of the American Constitution is its relative simplicity, which has helped it stand the test of time.

Bhutan's is certainly more manageable than the voluminous phone book known as the European Union constitution, but it still might face some minor problems due to its broad nature.

For example, preventing "unlawful attacks on honour and reputation" might conflict with the protection of freedom of speech. There are several areas where clear contradictions emerge, but ultimately it seems on the right track.

Secondly, the draft includes far more than the enumeration of rights; it mentions environmental issues like biodiversity and pollution; it promises public financing of political campaigns; and it even declares, "The State shall provide free access to basic public health services in both modern and traditional medicines."

In short, Bhutan's draft constitution is perhaps slightly too expansive, and it could be trimmed here and there, but reading through it often seems like an American civics lesson. It seems, at least, that the document is a genuine and good-faith effort on the part of Wangchuk to smoothly introduce democracy to his country.

Overall, the flaws in the constitution are minimal; if Wangchuk can convince his people to accept it (an irony in and of itself), Bhutan is on its way to becoming truly free and democratic. Another truly ambitious and respectable aspect of the reform is that the draft is "now being sent to all 530,000 adult citizens for their views."

The Indian Express comments:

...King Wangchuk has passed the preliminary test as an aspiring constitutional monarch. The big one, though, lies in ensuring that Bhutan’s democracy is not window dressing for palace rule but a genuine exercise designed to give people a stake in the political processes of their country — from free and fair elections to lively legislative debate and an animated opposition. The king should know that he starts with a credibility gap. This, after all, is democracy introduced from above, in a top-down fashion. But if he brings it off, he will certainly grow in stature in the eyes of the world.


As an aside:

We had planned a better post title but Bloggledygook already claimed use of "Everybody Wangchuk Tonight." Oh well. How could anyone not use that title? It's also far more acceptable than the other obvious pun-based alternative:

"How Much Wang Could A Wangchuk Chuk If A Wangchuk Could Chuk Wang."

Posted by Will Franklin · 11 April 2005 05:08 PM

Comments

Damn. What a great post. Very nice job. And although I may have gotten to the most obvious pun first, your riff is hysterical.

There is one more, however...

Posted by: Daniel Berczik at April 11, 2005 06:43 PM