Governance in Bhutan concerns the efforts of the National Assembly, Judiciary, Council of Ministers, Royal Advisory Council, and the Central Governme.
Set up in 1953, the Tshogdu (National Assembly) meets twice in a year and can be called for emergency sessions. Of its 150 members, 99 are chimmis or representatives of the people. The Monk Bodies elect 10 representatives for the monastic community. The remaining 35 are representatives of the Government and nominated from among senior officials by the king. The assembly from amongst its members elects the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. All members serve for a term of three years.
Prior to the establishment of the monarchy, Bhutan followed a dual system of administration initiated in 1652 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Under the Chhoesi system, the Druk Desi looked after the temporal administration and the Je Khenpo looked after religious matters of the country. Although this form of government worked over two centuries, disputes over the succession to the office brought about increasing strife and instability by the second half of the 19th century.
The First and Second King of Bhutan
A new era in the Bhutanese history began on the 17th December 1907 , when Trongsa Penlop (the Governor of Trongsa) Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the first hereditary king of Bhutan. It was a decision taken unanimously by the clergy, officials, and people acting on their desire for political stability and internal peace in the country. Thus, King Ugyen Wangchuck laid the foundation for the emergence of modern Bhutan, uniting it under a central authority.
The nation continued to enjoy peace and stability under the reign of the second king Jigme Wangchuck who succeeded him in 1926 and ruled the country till 1952.
The Third King – His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
After his ascension to the throne in 1952, the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck took the initiative of developing political consciousness among the Bhutanese people by giving them a greater say in running the country. This was most evident in the establishment if the National Assembly by the king in 1953, and later still, when his majesty voluntarily surrendered the right to veto bills in the Assembly. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck also proposed a mechanism of no-confidence vote that could require the king to abdicate his throne if he was deemed unfit to rule the nation. This, however, was met with a great deal of objection and resistance in the Assembly. Upon yet another recommendation on this issue from the king in 1969, the Assembly reluctantly approved the resolution whereby the reigning monarch would have to abdicate if two-thirds of the Assembly supported a vote of no-confidence. This system was however, abolished by the Assembly during the spring session in 1973. Under the third king’s reign, the Royal Advisory Council, the Council of Ministers and Cabinet, and a High Court were also established. Pertinently known as the father of modern Bhutan, king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck was responsible for bringing planned development into the country with the introduction of Five-Year Plans, shedding off centuries old isolation and opening Bhutan up to the rest of the world. In 1971, Bhutan joined the United Nations Organization.
The Fourth King – His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck
His Majesty the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk formally ascended the Golden Throne on 2 June 1974 and since then steered the country firmly towards the objectives of economic self-reliance, cultural promotion, regionally balanced development, environment preservation and good governance.
The National Assembly, the Royal Advisory Council, the Judiciary, the Council of Ministers and the Sectoral Ministries are the organizations that play a crucial role in the governance of the Kingdom of Bhutan. At the district, block and village levels there are established mechanisms that ensure people’s participation in the decision making process.
National Assembly; Established in 1953 by His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the main functions of the National Assembly are to enact laws, approve senior appointments in government and advise on all matters of national importance. It normally meets twice a year and consists of 154 members comprising 105 elected representatives of the people, 10 representatives of the clergy and 39 nominated representatives of the government.
Royal Advisory Council; The main functions of this body are to make its advice available to the King and his Council of Ministers on all matters of national importance, the welfare of the people and the national interest of the Kingdom, to develop friendly and harmonious relations between the government and the people and to ensure that the laws and resolutions passed by the National assembly are faithfully implemented by the government and people. Formed in 1965, it consists of nine members, six representing the people, two from clergy and one nominee of the King.
Judiciary; All the laws are codified. Minor offences are judged by the village headmen. Above them, the District Court have both original and appellate jurisdiction. Next higher court is the High Court in Thimphu. The final appeal is made to the King who then delegates the Royal Advisory Council to investigate and ensure that the courts have dispensed justice in keeping with the laws of the country.
Council of Ministers and Central Secretariat; Bhutan took a major step in the direction of a modernized administrative system in 1968 when the National Assembly, at the request of the King, approved the formation of a Council of Ministers. The Ministers are responsible to the Cabinet which is an important decision making body, second only in importance to the National Assembly. The Cabinet is presided over by the King and consists of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and all Royal Advisory Councilors.
In 2006, the fourth King handed over his responsibilities to his son King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. Now we have the fifth King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck who assended the throne in 2008 coinciding the centenary of the reign of the wangchuck dynasty. The very year was also marked with historical year the first ever democratically elected government. Now Bhutan has the constitutional democratic monarchy which is successfully running the government and is due for next election in 2013.