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In 1776 the British colonies in America rejected tyranny and established a democratic republic, to the consternation of monarchs everywhere

, and the Western World embarked on its “Great Experiment.” Two hundred years later, in a tiny, ruggedly beautiful, and culturally Medieval Asian country, a monarch began to dream of his own experiment, and in 2006, to the consternation of his people, Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated his hereditary power to further his plan for a new constitutional government, turning the venture of the Americans on its head. It would be difficult to deny the similarities between issues the early Americans faced, like the need to build both industry and infrastructure, and what the Bhutanese confront today, but the overall essence of Bhutanese politics is unique and the results of reform will prove telling for any third-world country in its emergent years. King Wangchuck and his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck are attempting to develop practical applications for idealistic political theories that few Westerners can view as less than extraordinarily naive, but early observations offer encouragement.

The Ideal In 2005, King Wangchuck revealed his proposal for a new constitution to the people of Bhutan, a document loaded with democratic reform (Kingdom). The constitution took decades of thought and soul-searching to produce by the old King, who upon his installation in 1972 as the fourth monarch in a kingdom established by the British in 1907, almost immediately announced his Gross National Happiness Index [GNH]. This quirky title applies specifically to Buddhist Bodhisattva Wangchuck’s policies, but also expresses his personal approach to reform. The rather nebulous

with threads of GNH woven into every aspect of conversation from Bhutanese newspaper coverage. Jigme Khesar has since proven an enthusiastic purveyor of his father’s ideal. ratified on 18 July 2008. The new constitution. centered at the ubiquitous “Centre for Bhutan Studies. beginning from the assumption that happiness supersedes other more conventional measures of wealth. In 2006 Jigme Singye Wangchuck became the first absolute monarch ever to relinquish power as part of his commitment to reform. turning the reins of government over to his son in hopes of affording the latter experience as head of state before conversion to a new democracy. includes much dear to Westerners. particularly targeting the standard economic pulse of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as incomplete in scope. like limiting powers between branches of government and separation of church and state (Kingdom). Wangchuck knew that small. have rarely managed to pass the threshold into modernity without revolution and severe social disruption. good governance. equitable economic development. subject to the pressures of Asian politics. He carefully designed a new democratic government and constitution for his country.concept has gelled over a period of years into a solid body of constitutional policy supported by the “Four Pillars” of GNH. isolated countries like his. Policy developing from the seed of GNH has included . to debate in legislative bodies (“Daydreaming.” an independent “think-tank” that enjoys substantial government support. During the intervening years between Wangchuck’s initial proffering of his philosophy a cottage industry has arisen to apply flesh to the framework with a small horde of Bhutanese intellectuals providing contributions. and environmental preservation (van Willenswaard 2). cultural promotion.” People’s 1-28). The discussion has become endemic in public discourse.

wealth redistribution. The Reality Not everyone likes the changes in Bhutan. either inside the country or from an international perspective. and relocation of rural populations disrupted by infrastructure projects. and the Wangchuck camp acknowledges its plan as highly ambitious.294 billion in 2008. only about 12% of total electricity produced is used in country because the bulk of . a country with a GDP of only $3. the country still faces a virtually non-existent infrastructure. Observers point out that idealistic doctrine notwithstanding. Foreigners remain skeptical. and a national dress code. Poverty hampers any development effort in Bhutan. and little level ground with which to work. and internal ethnic concerns the handling of which has brought perhaps the harshest criticisms of Bhutan since ratifying its new constitution. and though 12% of the GDP comes from hydroelectricity exports to China and India. It remains to be seen how this will work. the “Druk Gyalpo. Daunting matters abound. protective environmental law. Many Bhutanese view the whole notion of democracy with a jaundiced eye. political realities for a strategically important zone surrounded by powerful and at least latently hostile countries. The object is to ease Bhutan onto the international stage and into the modern era without thoroughly disrupting its largely agrarian Buddhist culture (Larmer 128-149). a ban on public smoking.” or Dharma King of Bhutan (Larmer 131). with goods often transported by foot or in small carts. expressing a conservative preference for a status quo supported by their religious appreciation for the King as a Bodhisattva. a long-standing low-tech agricultural economy in a mountainous geography. Very few passable roads exist.

when in attempts to prevent dislocation of rural populations resulting from infrastructure projects. officials shuffle farmers to ostensibly more productive land.” sec. and economic and infrastructure development. whom the Bhutanese simply deport.000.000 television sets. 5. 30. National).5% of total population (Walcott 5).000 km of paved roads (“World. For perspective. This presents only one of the issues that come to the fore in the play between Bhutan and China. land preservation.000 telephone connections. The Synthesis In spite of problems with implementation. Life expectancy ballooned 72% since 1972. Adult literacy has risen by 42% to 59. The politics of this kind of forced removal often engenders contention. there exist only about 11. with a population just under 700. Bhutan has made notable progress pursuing Gross National Happiness. The principle behind this move keeps economic disruption from forcing impoverished subsistence farmers to enter dead-end pursuits in the lower strata of the urban milieu. in a country about the size of Switzerland. for instance.the population has no use for it. and often dispute Bhutan’s authority (Walcott 3). both of which neighboring countries see Bhutan as a useful buffer. especially when it involves minority ethnic Nepalese. and Bhutan and India. The low-budget lives of many Bhutanese raise issues when government efforts at planning come to play. as it frequently does. The whole . often to countries that do not accept them. and about 5. and other governments and institutions are taking notice. and to keep the crop base that feeds the population viable. Planners have made long strides in areas such as taxation.

in Nishimizu. The orchestrators behind GNH policies want to pioneer a method of . Reassuring his tentatively willing subjects. Both the elder and the younger Wangchuck exhibit awareness that entrance to the new global forum is both necessary to his country’s well-being. Wangchung’s evident concern for his people comes through as nearly palpable as he encourages them to ease into embracing an expansive new way of life. sec. In the past. establishing vigorous commissions and accessible avenues of communication. if only to apply an ideal. We now understand more about our incomplete works. but Bhutan’s government seems genuinely committed to felicitous reform. and lively debate dominates local discussion. Satisfaction still eludes some. Jigme Singye Wangchuck said: “looking at the improvement in the living standard of our communities. we are reassured without any doubt that our goals will be achieved well in future just as in the past.undertaking still seems a work in progress. planned and executed by economists and technocrats with little regard for cultural matters viewing traditional culture as a superfluous impediment (Daskon 168-9). In spite of his choppy English. which were never heard of before. The crux of Bhutan’s GNH and the policies it engenders is a respect for traditional culture. our inabilities and the problems that arise with development activities” (qtd. and inevitable in some form or another. since the parties display little difference (Larmer 130). Two political parties have formed. 5). development efforts in Third World countries have come from the top down.

The objective is not to make the country rich by materialistic standards. to proceedings in many of the most troubled parts of the world. par. comfort. the GNH Index survey seeks to measure such variables as the number of yaks owned by a household. with discussion of GNH . and in short. Bhutan's home minister and ex-prime minister. health and meditation practices. 13). Only after exhaustively measuring and merging the broad Bhutanese cultural climate as well as possible do officials allow necessarily disruptive projects or policies allowed to commence. but rich in a broader. "Material well-being is only one component." said Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley. Physical and economic development are viewed as secondary to points of national identity. “We have to think of human well-being in broader terms. rural. one might note. the popularity of traditional festivals and activities. room occupancy in the house.both measure and practice whereby the religious. and exposes a much gentler philosophical basis. and welfare. The index represents a substantial departure from measurements that account for only economic measurements of progress. Even accounting for physical development headaches. and projects focused on developing a sense of cultural pulse are initiated before rushing in with bulldozers and bank loans. metaphysical sense. Others in the international community have taken note. happiness (“Gross”). Added to what most Westerners would normally consider germane to economics. in Revkin. perhaps the most ambitious of these cultural projects is the nearly 300 line GNH Index questionnaire aggressively disseminated across all societal lines. This is in stark contrast. traditional culture of Bhutan and its people participate actively in the emergence of the country onto the world stage. That doesn't ensure that you're at peace with your environment and in harmony with each other" (qtd.

Though the pace of life remains comparatively slow. and felicity are rising in spite of transformation and an expected modicum of turmoil. Unlike other developing countries suffering severe population disturbances while elites wrangle over resources. . In his recent London Financial Times piece.” could have convinced his conservative. Disagreements find redress in a newly empowered and revamped court system.(Revkin). Likely no one but the Dharma King. the Wangchucks’ plan seems effectual. Dharma Democracy The Bhutanese. Simon Briscoe even pointed out the similarity between Bhutan’s overarching programs and the possible course America’s new president finds himself forced to pursue (par. with Buddhist teenagers break dancing on the new television program “Bhutanese Idol. Up to now.S. impishly Buddhist people in favor of the drastic transformation inherent in the changeover he has instigated. health. to the extent that Bhutan garners attention at all. the “King of the Way Things Ought to Be. in Bhutan families continue to hold strong and the countryside atmosphere remains stable. Education and literacy have become both valued and broadly supported. Happy reform gains new ground in every aspect of Bhutanese life with each fresh glance. Standards of living. The new administration always meant for its country to mount the world stage and as it does the West takes it all in.” to the bemusement of their elders. it appears. Revolution and upheaval are nowhere in sight. the new mingles with the old. are chasing democracy because the King says they should.cropping up everywhere from United Nations fora to political discussion in the U.10). and Western styles tentatively emerging in city centers (Larmer 127).

constitution. Thierry. Mathou. 8 March 2009 <http://www.” bhutanstudies. Bhutan: The Centre for Bhutan Studies. Daskon.Thimphu.” bhutanstudies.” Bhutan Observer.pdf>.bhutanstudies. Kingdom of Bhutan Constitution Drafting Committee. “A More Humane Way to Measure Progress. “Gross National Happiness Pre-Test Questionnaire #3 November 2007. Bhutan: Centre for Bhutan Studies. 2007. Larmer. The.php?id=44>.” Financial Times of London 31 January 2009. “Gross National Happiness: A New Paradigm. 2008. “Bhutan’s Enlightened Experiment.Thimphu.bt/main/highlight_detail. Chandima D. Thimphu.org. Works Cited Briscoe. Final.bhutanobserver.Many of Bhutan’s renovated policies show a recognizably Western influence with a singularly Bhutanese spin. Editorial. Brook. 2008. 5 March . Bhutan: Constitution Drafting Committee.org. “Daydreaming GNH.bt 8 March 2009. 12 March 2009 . 5 March 2009 <http://www.bt/TsaThrim%20Eng%20(A5).” Thimphu. Maybe we Westerners would do well to study the Bodhisattvas’ logic before we rush into sweeping changes of our own.Bhutan: The Centre for Bhutan Studies. Simon.org. 10 March 2009 . “How to Reform a Buddhist Monarchy: The Political Achievements of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck.bt.Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan.bt.”National Geographic March 2008: 124-149. 2008. 10 March 2009 . the Fourth King of Bhutan (1972-2006).

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