Thinley: Leading the world's youngest democracy

The Inquirer

Thinley was on an official visit to New Delhi recently, just a few days before the tiny nation celebrated the first anniversary of the adoption of its democratic constitution on July 18 last. In a tete-a-tete with Anirban Bhaumik of Deccan Herald, he talked on a range of issues. Excerpts:

Could you share with us your experience of leading the world’s newest democracy?

It has been 16 months since my party, Druk Pheunsum Tshogpa had a landslide victory in the first ever national assembly elections in Bhutan. We won 45 of the 47 seats in the bicameral parliament’s lower House. This victory was nothing but a huge responsibility that people have entrusted on us. Ours is the first democratic government of Bhutan, and people will not just judge our performance, they will in fact judge democracy itself.
Our march towards democracy has begun at a time when democracies in some parts of the world are being tested and or failing to deliver. So we have been trying our best to live up to the expectations of the people and trying to ensure that they do not lose faith in democracy.

Is the democracy now taking roots in Bhutan?

Bhutanese people were very happy under the benevolent monarchy. So when the king proposed transformation to democracy, people were apprehensive how the new system would work. Now they are gradually realising that democracy ensures long-term and sustainable good governance and empowers the masses. While a structure, a legal framework and institutional arrangements are in place, what is lacking and what needs to be developed to make our democracy sustainable is a democratic culture. So my government’s responsibility is to promote democratic culture and to facilitate people to imbibe the values of democracy so that they understand the value of votes.

How are the two newborn political parties in Bhutan facing the challenges?

We have only two political parties and both are in acute financial crises. Political parties’ role in a democracy does not end merely with elections. They should remain close to common people and be able to convey their demands and grievances.

How do you view the India-Bhutan relationship?

India is the world’s largest democracy and we always look to India for inspiration. The huge exercise of parliamentary election across India was indeed a lesson for us. India has been very supportive in our march towards democracy and we hope to enhance our bilateral ties. Bhutan has a potential for generating 32,000 MW of hydropower. We have now decided to set up, in collaboration with India, power-projects to generate 10,000 MW by 2020.

Bhutan is trying to emerge as an IT-enabled knowledge society and India has the resources. Indian IT majors like Infosys, Wipro and Genpact already have projects in our country. We look forward to India’s support in our endeavours in organic farming and more cooperation for economic and social infrastructure development too.

Has there been any progress in your boundary negotiations with China?

Bhutan and China share a long yet-to-be-delineated boundary. We have since 1984 held 18 rounds of negotiations with China to resolve the issue. We will continue our efforts to resolve it through dialogue and we hope to reach an agreement at the earliest.

Are reports about the Chinese army making incursions into Bhutan and building roads true?

I don’t have any comment to make on China building infrastructure on its side of the border. But reports about incursions and Chinese army building roads in Bhutanese territory are not true. We have not had any serious problem along the border yet. We are very sensitive to it. But I must say that the border is not well defined yet. And nomadic people, particularly the yak herdsmen, do stray across the border sometimes.

How severe was the impact of global slowdown on the economy of Bhutan?

Not as severe as it has been in other export-driven economies. Our country is heavily dependent on Overseas Development Assistance, which comes from OECD countries and India. The slowdown had minimal impact on our economy, except in the tourism sector that shrank by 31 per cent. We are confident of a turnaround.

How serious is the threat posed by climate change to Bhutan?

It indeed is a very serious threat for a Himalayan country like Bhutan. We are concerned over climate change and ready to be part of any international effort to mitigate its impact. Our glaciers are already melting due to global warming and it can have a devastating impact.

Is there any plan to repatriate the Bhutanese refugees from Nepal?

This is a humanitarian problem. A large number of people are suffering, whether you call them refugees from Bhutan or political or ecological refugees of their own country (Nepal) is a different matter. Many of the refugees have resettled in Western countries. There are reports that Maoists have made penetration among the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. This is unfortunate and a matter of concern for us.

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