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  Bhutan ::    

27 30 N, 90 30 E
monarchy; special treaty relationship with India
8 August 1949
47,000 sq km


Government and politics

Politics of Bhutan takes place in a framework of a traditional absolute monarchy, developing into a constitutional monarchy. The King of Bhutan is head of state. Executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Shungtsog, the council of ministers. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. Political parties are prohibited.

Ethnic groups

Bhutanese are mainly of Tibetan stock, and are also known as Buotias; they account for approximately 50% of the population. The Ngalop (also called Bhote) are people of Tibetan origin who live in northern and western Bhutan; the Sharchop inhabit the eastern regions and also have ethnic affinities with the people of China's Tibetan region. Aboriginal or indigenous tribal peoples live in villages scattered throughout Bhutan and account for approximately 15% of the population. The remaining peoples are Nepalese settlers (about 35% of the population), living mostly in the south. Some 85,000 were expelled to Nepal in 1992–93, and about 5,000–15,000 more moved to India.

The History

Stone tools, weapons, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC. Historians have theorised that the state of Lhomon (literally, "southern darkness"), or Monyul ("Dark Land", a reference to the Monpa – the aboriginal peoples of Bhutan) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country), and Lhomon Khashi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches) have been found in ancient Bhutanese and Tibetan chronicles.

The earliest transcribed event in Bhutan was the passage of the Buddhist saint Padmasambhava (also called Guru Rinpoche) in the 8th century. Bhutan's early history is unclear, because most of the records were destroyed after fire ravaged Punakha, the ancient capital in 1827. By the 10th century, Bhutan's political development was heavily influenced by its religious history. Various sub-sects of Buddhism emerged which were patronised by the various Mongol and Tibetan overlords. After the decline of the Mongols in the 14th century, these sub-sects vied with each other for supremacy in the political and religious landscape, eventually leading to the ascendancy of the Drukpa sub-sect by the 16th century.

The Trongsa DzongUntil the early 17th century, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of impregnable dzong (fortresses), and promulgated a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralised control. Many such dzong still exist. After Namgyal's death in 1652, Bhutan fell into anarchy. Taking advantage of the chaos, the Tibetans attacked Bhutan in 1710, and again in 1730 with the help of the Mongols. Both assaults were successfully thwarted, and an armistice was signed in 1759.

Map of BhutanIn the 18th century, the Bhutanese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south. In 1772, Cooch Behar appealed to the British East India Company who assisted them in ousting the Bhutanese, and later in attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was signed in which Bhutan agreed to retreat to its pre-1730 borders. However, the peace was tenuous, and border skirmishes with the British were to continue for the next hundred years. The skirmishes eventually led to the Duar War (1864–1865), a confrontation over who would control the Bengal Duars. After Bhutan lost the war, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Bhutan. As part of the reparations, the Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in exchange for a rent of Rs. 50,000. The treaty ended all hostilities between British India and Bhutan.

During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Trongsa led to civil war in Bhutan, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions in the period 1882–1885.

In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The British government promptly recognised the new monarchy, and in 1910 Bhutan signed a treaty which let Great Britain control Bhutan's foreign affairs. After India gained independence from the United Kingdom on August 15, 1947, Bhutan became of one of the first countries to recognize India's independence.

Since Britain was no longer going to be in the region a similar treaty was signed August 8, 1949 with the newly independent India.

After the Chinese People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1951, Bhutan sealed its northern frontier and improved bilateral ties with India. To reduce the risk of Chinese encroachment, Bhutan began a modernisation program that was largely sponsored by India. In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country's legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. In 1965, he set up a Royal Advisory Council, and in 1968 he formed a Cabinet. In 1971, Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations, having held observer status for three years. In July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at the age of 16 after the death of his father, Dorji Wangchuck.

By the 1980s, the government had become acutely conscious not just of widespread illegal immigration of people of Nepali origin into Bhutan, but also of the total lack of integration even of long-term immigrants into the political and cultural mainstream of the country. Most of the immigrants knew very little of the culture of Bhutan and most could not understand any one of the local languages including Dzongkha. They remained so 'Nepalese' in their culture they were indistinguishable from new immigrants. For its part, government officials had long ignored the situation assuming that most of these people who were most often observed in non-Bhutanese clothes were in fact non-Bhutanese visitors or residents. Perceiving this growing dichotomy as a threat to national unity, the Government promulgated directives in the 1980s that sought to preserve Bhutan's cultural identity as well as to formally embrace the citizens of other ethnic groups in a "one nation, one people" policy. While the intent of the policy was benign and constructive, the government not totally unreasonably, implied that the 'culture' to be preserved would be that of the northern Bhutanese.

This policy therefore required citizens to wear the attire of the northern Bhutanese in public places and reinforced the status of Dzongkha as the national language. Nepali was discontinued as a subject in the schools keeping in line with the status of the other languages of Bhutan, none of which are taught. Such policies were criticized at first by human rights groups as well as Bhutan's Nepalese economic migrant community, who perceive the policy to be directed against them. From the perspective of Bhutanese, the issue is one of preserving a Himalayan Buddhist culture and way of life (which has been completely destroyed in nearby Sikkim by an onslaught of over immigration by very same ethnic Nepali people). The Nepali immigrants claim that the Bhutanese are clinging to power at the expense of human rights, pluralism, and democratic principles. However many in Bhutan see ethnic Nepali immigrants cry for pluralism and democracy as just as an excuse to overwhelm and take over a lightly populated Bhutan.

Simmering tensions were heightened in the late 1980s, when the government conducted a census exercise to control the flood of illegal immigration. The basis for the census findings was the 1958 'cut off' year, the year that the Nepali population had first received Bhutanese citizenship. Those individuals who could not provide proof of residency prior to 1958 were adjudged to be illegal immigrants. This was implemented through the 1985 Citizenship Act. A delicate period in the development of the Government and increasingly violent protests by ethnic-Nepali democratic parties, spurred on this act which stated that only those Nepalese immigrants who could show they had resided in Bhutan since 1958,through proof of documents prior to 1958, would be deemed citizens of Bhutan. This act was also implemented as more and more Nepali's were coming through the porous, unguarded southern border, attracted by the growing economy and opportunities. This act led to the increased activity of numerous groups to protest against what was seen as an injustice against resident Nepalis.

Matters reached a head in 1990 after well organized groups comprised of 10,000 or more ethnic Nepalis from the Indian side of the border, organized protest marches in different districts, burned down schools, stripped local government officials of their national attire which they burned publicly, carried out kidnappings and murders of other ethnic Nepalis who did not join their protests. Some of the organizers of the marches were arrested and detained. However the Bhutanese government later released most of them. Those with ties to the groups responsible for the murders and kidnappings were forced to leave, but unfortunately many other innocent ethnic-Nepali citizens were coerced to leave by the angry ethnic-Nepali dissidents.

Thus a group of several thousand left and settled in refugee camps. The UNHCR aid proivded to these people attracted the poor from border areas of Nepal, who claimed to be refugees as well to receive aid. Thus the initial number of people in the camps ballooned in a year to about 100,000. The issue remains unresolved today, with Bhutan unable to repatriate refugees as they are unable to identify who are actual ones and who aren't. The refugees offer ownership of the national citizen identity cards as proof of citizenry. The government contends that there has been widespread forging of these documents.link

The crisis of the people in the camps causes some tension between Bhutan and Nepal and is the glaring issue in Bhutan's otherwise good international relations.

In 1998, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced significant political reforms, transferring most of his powers to the Prime Minister and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. In late 2003, the Bhutanese army successfully launched a large-scale operation to flush out anti-India insurgents who were operating training camps in southern Bhutan.

In 1999, the king also lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to have introduced the television. In his speech, he asserted that the television was a critical step to the modernization of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country's Gross National Happiness (Bhutan is the only country to measure happiness) but warned against the misuse of the television that may erode traditional Bhutanese values.

A new constitution has been presented in early 2005, which will be put up for ratification by a referendum before coming into force. In December 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that he would step down as King of Bhutan in 2008. King Wangchuck said he would be succeeded by his son, the crown prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. A group comprised of ethnic Nepalese claiming to be Bhutanese exiles, have criticized the constitution saying that the king is trying to overshadow the refugee problem in the country by introducing "limited democracy".


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