Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bhutan is voting today

Today the good people of Bhutan headed to the polls for the second round of voting in their first ever elections. And not just any “democratic elections” but first-ever-transition-from-absolute-monarchy-elections. Which means that now there’s only one absolute monarchy left in the world, and from the looks of it, the winds of change are blowing in the Desert Kingdom, too.

But, back to Bhutan.

While the foreign news outlets happily broadcast that the people of Bhutan voted, and are anxious to become a fully democratic society, that is just the official, politically correct version that the outside world expects to hear.

The reality is not quite as cheerful. Many Bhutanese I met in January were not so keen on democracy at all. They liked the way things worked in the old days, they were happy with the Fourth King (and I “heart” Jigme Wangchuck, too!), and truth be told, while they knew that change was unavoidable, they were not in any hurry to become a constitutional monarchy.

In January I spoke with a few politicians from the People’s Democratic Party, and they gladly shared the challenges facing both them, and their rivals – the Bhutan Harmony Party (DPT).

“People don’t know what democracy is,” an official from PDP explained. “We travel to villages, on horseback if we have to, and teach people about the election process, show them how to vote, and what the change will mean to them.”

Explaining the concept of democracy in a country where the king is universally revered is no easy task. Doing it in a region as mountainous and inaccessible as the interior of Bhutan is even harder.

And the biggest problem?

“People look at Nepal and are afraid that the same may happen here. People look at India and see how inefficient and corrupt democracy can be. Our job is to convince them that we can do better,” the young politician said.

And can Bhutan do better? Only time will tell.

Voting instructions in Bhutan, posted at the bank in Haa

PS. DPT won! Tashi Delek DPT!

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