Three poignant scenes in the last few weeks reaffirm the important and diverse roles played by the Monarchy in Bhutan. These scenes are of His Majesty the King regardless of personal safety personally supervising the rescue of sacred Nangtens as Wangdue Dzong burnt, His Majesty bringing together a usually divided and fractional Parliament at the opening and closing ceremony of the Parliament and His Majesty comforting and promising to always take care of the children of a RBA soldier Gopa Tenzin Dorji who died in the line of duty.
In an era where many MPs (of both houses) and senior bureaucrats are intent on increasing their pay, allowances, privileges, Patangs and titles, His Majesty the King has been doing the opposite for the Monarchy.
The latest in a series of such moves is the Royal Kasho limiting the land ceiling of Royal family members to 25 acres. Earlier His Majesty the King had drastically limited the number of BHT vehicles and also limited the use of Royal titles to a select few who qualified for it as per a strict protocol.
Though His Majesty’s Secretariat is the most important office in the land it has a budget that is smaller than even tiny government divisions. The foreign travel budget of the secretariat would be among the least compared to any government or public agency.
His Majesty the King also personally lives in a no frill and near spartan conditions with Her Majesty the Queen. This is a similar feature when His Majesty travels the length and breadth of the country preferring to stay in the house of the poor instead of furnished hotels or government guest houses.
This is all extraordinary given the important role played by His Majesty the King in Bhutanese democracy. Though Bhutan is a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy it cannot be compared to any other system as every one of the 44 or so international Monarchies are different in their own way. For example in Netherlands the King chairs special cabinet meetings.
His Majesty the King in Bhutan is not only the head of state but is also a symbol of unity of the nation and people of Bhutan. His Majesty is responsible for the security and sovereignty of Bhutan. His Majesty also has the very important responsibility of protecting and upholding “the constitution in the best interest and for the welfare of the people of Bhutan.” His Majesty has the duty to ensure that governments run in accordance with the constitution and laws of the nation for the welfare of the Bhutanese people.
As per the constitution only His Majesty the King can grant Land Kidu or any other kind of Kidu.
In his multiple roles the Constitution grant’s His Majesty the King several other functions and powers. His Majesty the King has 1) Legislative powers to call various sessions of the house and refuse to provide assent to bad bills by sending them back for re-discussion. Also a bill only becomes law after Royal assent. When the government faces a no confidence vote by two thirds then His Majesty has the power to dissolve the Parliament 2)Executive powers to be the sole one to make important appointments in the government or award titles, 3)Judicial powers to grant amnesty, pardon or reduction of sentences, granting of citizenship, getting the opinion of the Supreme Court on any question of law and exercise powers on matters not enshrined in the constitution or other laws 4) Military Power as the Supreme Commander in Chief of the armed forces and the militia with the power to declare war and all peace treaties are made in His name, 5)Financial power to use the relief fund instituted by the Parliament, 6) Diplomatic power to promoting goodwill and relations with other countries, 7) Emergency powers to declare a national and financial emergency on the advice of the Prime Minister. In case of a deadlock where a joint sitting of Parliament can’t pass an important bill His Majesty can order a National Referendum.
Most of the 44 countries with Monarchies are stable, well to do and strife free mainly due to the stabilizing role of the Monarchs. For example Scandinavian countries which have the world’s highest development figures are Monarchies.
Many international political scientists say that the Monarchy is a proven check against possible illegal actions by political governments. For example in Australia in 1975 the Head of State representing the British Queen refused to carry out unconstitutional measures that the Prime Minister wanted.
In Nepal the abolition of Monarchy has lead to civil conflict, political logjam, instability and also growing sectarian and ethnic divides. It is not surprising that a recent poll among the Nepalese saw a clear majority wanting the re-installment of the Monarchy in Nepal. In Cambodia the abolition of Monarchy led to civil strife and deaths of 1.9mn people in the Pol Plot regime killings when a radical communist government took over. The modern era owes a lot to Monarchy as historically the greatest civilizations and empires have been formed by the Monarchy.
Australia, Canada and New Zealand though independent and modern felt such a strong need for a Monarchy for their own interest that they opted to continue having a British Monarch as their head of state. Belgium which did not have a Monarchy created one after their constitution was drafted in 1830. Medieval Japan consisted of warring warlords who only unified to create a strong nation under the Japanese Emperor.
Though Britain is the world’s oldest democracy with arguably the most aggressive political and press culture in the developed world, the British Monarchy is only increasing in popularity with the Queen celebrating her recent diamond jubilee.
Political parties in Bhutan come with fractured mandates and represent only a certain section of society and are usually in conflict with each other but His Majesty represents everyone.
Bhutanese Monarchs due to their very nature have a deeper level of patriotism than politicians and this combined with their position inspires higher levels of Patriotism in their citizens then a politician would.
Bhutanese Monarchs don’t just get to become the King overnight but rather our Kings from a young age have to undergo a strict regime of discipline, rigorous training, difficult conditioning, and are trained for good governance, etiquette, defense of the country, and the highest levels of public service. This is why Bhutanese Kings are at ease either defending their country in a war, negotiating with powerful foreign leaders, serving the meek, giving justice or holding philosophical conversations with the most learned lamas. His Majesty the King in spite of his position is a picture of humility, politeness and good grace.
During times of crisis like natural disasters His Majesty the King has been a figure of inspiration inspiring powerful national loyalty, unity and action.
His Majesty the King granting Nu 200mn for the reconstruction of Wangdue Dzong will provide much needed relief and help in the Dzong reconstruction.
In Bhutan the Monarchy apart from the above roles holds a very high cultural, historical and emotional value for every Bhutanese citizen.
When the Wangdue Dzong burnt down there was national outcry and grief because the Dzong was part of the larger Bhutanese identity. The Monarchy over a period of time has become the very soul of that Bhutanese identity providing security, stability, relief and comfort to its people.
In 2008 most Bhutanese did not want even a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy preferring an Absolute Monarchy. They could only be persuaded to accept democracy with great difficulty on the condition that the Monarchy will continue to play a key role.
Most importantly the Monarchy is absolutely central to the existence and future survival of Bhutan as a sovereign and independent nation.
“Monarchy is the one system of government where power is exercised for the good of all.”
-Aristotle (Greek Philosopher and teacher of Alexander the Great)