Sunday, November 20, 2005

A lesson in democracy

We all love to live in a democratic country. Heck, Bush even started a war to implement the Greater Good of Democracy on the unwilling Iraqi masses….

But if people had a choice, would they opt for democracy?
The subjects of the King of Bhutan opposed their ruler’s intention to abdicate and transfer his powers to an elected parliament.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bhutan, it’s a small country nestled in the Eastern Himalayas. Believed to be the real Shangri-La of legend, Bhutan is a preserve of Himalayan cultural and an ecological paradise. Bhutan or "Druk Yul" (Land of the Thunder Dragon) is one of the world's smallest countries with an area that is about the size of Switzerland (or half the size of Indiana).

Its ruler is the “Dragon King” Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
The UK-educated king is married to four queens (all sisters), has 5 daughters and 5 sons, drives a Toyota, loves American Basketball, and rules over the world's last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom.
Like his late father, the current King follows a careful strategy of modernisation while still trying to preserve Bhutanese culture.
He even coined a special phrase, stating that his goal is to increase the Gross National Happiness of his peole (in contrast to just go for Gross National Income).

For the last 30 years, the king was able to increase literacy levels, life expectancy and household incomes of his 750,000 subjects.
To save its natural beauty, 60% of the country has to be forested forever and hunting is prohibited.
Cultural preservation of language, dress and architecture are required by law and satellite dishes are banned.
Tourism is controlled by a strict quota to keep out the cultural litter that has infiltrated other Himalayan areas.

The King's ideas about statesmanship are clear:
"It is the system, not the throne, which is important.
A monarchy is not the best form government because a King is chosen by birth and not by merit.
The people of Bhutan must be able to establish a system which works for them

However, his plans to abdicate are strongly apposed by the nation's mostly-Buddhist population. His people fear it will only bring corruption and controversy to their beloved home country. Considering the current situation in most Western democratic countries, this fear isn’t unjustified.
Moreover, tucked away between some of the world's most overcrowded, impoverished, and ecologically decimated countries in Asia (China (Tibet), India, Bangladesh and Nepal), Bhutan is increasingly being encroached on by the outside.

Ironically enough, the way his subjects oppose his plans is very democratic indeed:
thousands turned out for a protest in the capital Thimphu.
If the protesters succeed, the democratic will of the Bhutanese people, that is expressed in a democratic way, will lead to rejecting democracy in Bhutan for now.....

Ah, if only my professor philosophy would still be alive to comment!

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