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Political System in Bhutan

Since the 17th century, Bhutan has evolved from a cluster of principalities to theocracy to absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.

Before the arrival from Tibet of Bhutan’s founder, Zhabdrung Rinpoche, Bhutan was ruled by chieftains of different valley principalities. The chieftains were religious or secular aristocrats of Tibetan or Bhutanese descent. The valley principalities often fought among themselves to protect or expand their territories.

The arrival of Zhabdrung Rinpoche was to have a big impact on Bhutan. He created the Bhutanese theocracy and started the unification of valley principalities into one nation. He did that by wielding combining spiritual influence and political tactics. Zhabdrung Rinpoche was recognised as the Drukpa theocratic ruler of Bhutan.

After Zhabdrung Rinpoche’s death in 1651, the duel system of governance started in Bhutan with the desi as the secular head and the Je Khenpo (chief abbot) as the religious head. The duel system of governance that lasted for 255 years saw some of the most turbulent periods in Bhutan’s history. Regional leaders fought over the post of the desi leading to unending bloodshed and infighting. During that period, Bhutan saw 54 desis.

One of the significant milestones in the Bhutanese history is coming of hereditary monarchy in 1907. Amid infighting and bloodshed Trongsa Ponlop (Governor of Eastern Bhutan) Ugyen Wangchuck emerged as the undisputed ruler commanding the respect of both secular and religious rulers. It’s in recognition of the need for an undisputed ruler and Ugyen Wangchuck’s abilities that the monastic body and all the local rulers unanimously elected him as the first hereditary king of Bhutan. The course of Bhutan’s history changed since then.

The institution of monarchy not only ended centuries of strife and bloodshed, but also brought a number of reforms that promoted the people welfare and strengthened the country’s security and sovereignty.

Bhutan’s move towards democracy began since the reign of the third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who instituted the National Assembly in 1953 comprising elected members representing the people and monastic body. In 1963, he started the Royal Advisory Council, which served as an important bridge between the King and the people.

The fourth King took the process of democratization a step further by decentralizing power with the institution of Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (District Development Assembly) in 1981 and Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (County Development Assembly) in 1991. The gradual process of decentralisation of the power of the King culminated in the devolution of power to the cabinet ministers in 1998. The King, since then, served as the head of the state and the government was headed by the prime minister.

Bhutan started drafting a constitution in 2001 with the formation of a drafting committee headed by the chief justice of Bhutan. The first parliamentary elections took place in 2008 which completed the process of democratization. The constitution was launched after the elections.

Bhutan’s parliament consists of three chambers – the National Assembly comprising 47 members elected from 47 National Assembly constituencies across 20 districts, the National Council comprising 25 members (one each from 20 districts and five eminent persons appointed by the King), and His Majesty the King.

In the new political system, political aspirants are required have a minimum of university degree and the clergy is considered “above” politics and cannot even vote.

About Bhutan

1. Culture
2. Religion
3. Environment
4. Gross National Happiness
5. Political System
6. National Symbols

  • a. National Flag
  • b. National Emblem
  • c. National Anthem
  • d. National Bird
  • e. National Animal
  • f. National Flower
  • g. National Anthem
  • h. National Tree
  • i. National Sport
  • j. General Information