Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuk (which wins this week's Best Name in Democratic Revolutions Prize) is circulating a draft constitution--in the works since 2001--establishing a democracy:
The constitution would provide for two houses of parliament — a 75-member National Assembly and a 25-member National Council. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck would become head of state, but parliament could impeach him by a two-thirds vote, said Kinley Dorji, editor of the Kuensel newspaper.
The constitution sets the king's retirement age at 65; establishes a parliament, a two-party system and a list of 21 fundamental rights including free speech and press and the right to privacy. It essentially establishes a constitutional monarchy, yet includes provisions for the king's removal:
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who became king in 1972, has opted—by prevalent standards in his kingdom—for a fairly liberal approach through a Constitution that allows the monarch to proclaim emergency on the ‘‘written advice’’ of the Prime Minister. But this has to be cleared by a two-thirds majority of Parliament within 21 days of its first meeting after such a proclamation.
The Constitution also caters for a process to remove a monarch. However, this can be done only if the King is perceived to have flouted the Constitution or suffers from any permanent mental disability. He is otherwise exempt from being answerable in any court of law as his actions and person shall be ‘‘sacrosanct’’.
On any of the two grounds for removal of the king, a motion has to be passed by a three-fourths majority in a joint session of Parliament. This will be followed by a national referendum where the resolution must obtain a simple majority for the King to abdicate in favour of the heir apparent.
I have friends who spent some time in Bhutan last year and pronounced the visit to be the most "transforming experience" of their lives. In the past visitors could only enter Bhutan by invitation from the king. Recently, however, tourism has become a growing business. Not that there will be esavers to Thimphu any time soon. These trips are for the well-healed only for now. The government requires tourists to spend $250 a day. Of course, that's just an average week around the Bloggledygook household.
The constitution will be studied and voted on by the entire adult population over the next two years--things move at their own pace in that part of the world--but officials are confident that it will pass.
Bhutan is a small kingdom of about 700,000 with a monarchy that goes back to the days of the British Raj in India. The king will be 60 next year and seems desirous of making a lasting mark on his country. The influence of India cannot be overstated; many Bhutanese are educated in India and bring back with themIndian style, food and culture. Politically, the tiny country has chosen to align with India rather than with China. Which probably accounts for the democratic leanings of the monarch.
This is in sharp contrast to the actions of Nepalese King Gyanendra who recently seized power and threw out the democratically elected parliament. King Wangchuk, at least in comparison and possibly in real practice, seem to have established himself as yet another democrat who has felt the winds of changed and welcomed them in to his country.
Let's congratulate the Bhutanese people, offer our help and goodwill and toast democracy's newest hero.
(Thanks, Maggie, for the heads-up).
UPDATE: Welcome Instapeople. TypePad is having some issues, so if you're seeing a stripped-down version, try reloading and see what happens. Thanks, Glenn, for the link.