From a Monarchy to an Autocracy

In the last five years some physical infrastructure, especially in the rural areas has been strengthened but the same cannot be said for the democratic fabric in Bhutan.

Through a combination of factors Bhutanese democracy has now become ‘too unique’ to be called a normal democracy, and rather is headed on the path of an Autocracy.

Most dictionaries define Autocracy as a form of government where too much political power is concentrated in one person, in which one person has unlimited power over others, or in which the ruler does not take into account others wishes and opinions. Bhutan’s current system of governance meets all these conditions.

Historically, starting from the time of the Zhabdrung, Bhutan has either been ruled by a strong central authority or by local feudal lords in their respective valleys. Therefore, culturally generations of Bhutanese until recently have been accustomed to being ruled by a strong ruler that enjoys absolute power.

The birth of the Monarchy from 1907 onwards gave rise to the concept of an Enlightened Monarchy which not only united and developed the country, but also for the first time in Bhutanese history gave this power back to the people in stages with the last stage being in March 2008 when Bhutan’s first democratic government was elected.

However, starting from even as early as 2008 instead of using this new space voluntarily vacated by our Kings for strengthening democracy, the ruling government lead by the Prime Minister and the older ministers have instead installed an Autocracy over which they reign supreme.

Instead of a fresh start the current regime using a combination of fear tactics, intimidation, people’s inbuilt cultural conditioning, undermining of democratic institutions, ad-hoc decisions and dictatorial governance style, has taken Bhutan back to the past.

In form and structure Bhutan can be called a functioning democracy with elections, elected representatives and democratic institutions but in terms of practice Bhutan is getting farther away from becoming a genuine democracy.

The joke is on democracy as a group of older ministers in a new system has ensured that the old ways are perpetuated in the new system. The new and younger ministers have also followed suit in their senior colleague’s path.

From the first year itself the government started establishing an Iron grip over various government organizations, individuals and institutions like the DHI, REC, Secretaries, senior civil servants, RCSC, democratic bodies, state owned broadcaster and etc. either by changing the laws or replacing and transferring key people.

At the time, the government through skillful public relations and deft media handling gave the impression that this was all being to bring stubborn institutions and individuals stuck in the past, in line with the new democratic spirit.

The reality, as we now know in the fifth year of democracy was that it was nothing more than a power struggle to control these institutions and individuals, not for the sake of democratic governance but for more power and control. For example some big economic projects that are being given to a connected few use these same structures.

The ruling party itself does not practice the concept of internal party democracy as evinced in the DPT party meetings, where the scene is more akin to a group of young students listening to a strict principal. Many MPs have very less say within their own party. In some ways the ruling party has elevated its Party President to the position of a Mini-monarch who cannot be questioned and all his directions have to be blindly obeyed.

This along with the lack of alternative leaders most of whom are too scared to speak their minds even within the DPT, a weak opposition, the strong personality of the PM and an impressionable media has led to the rise of the personality cult of the Prime Minister.

Statements like, ‘He is the only one fit to lead the country,’ or ‘there is no one else,’ etc all come from this mass personality cult where the PM even assumes superhuman qualities ignoring his obvious human flaws.

The autocratic government has taken on a ‘super-paternal’ role as the one who will tell everyone else what to eat, drink, smoke, think,  when to walk and how to  happy.

The very reason why the Fourth King gave democracy was to avoid this kind of centralized and autocratic leadership, but ironically Bhutanese democracy is being undermined by this very kind of leadership that deals only in absolutes, be it absolute power, absolute control or absolute victory.

Autocracy and the complete power that comes with it inevitably gives rise to an Oligarchy and Institutionalized Corruption.

This can be seen in the numerous corruption cases where the leadership has shown itself to be unaccountable to the masses and instead will do everything to help’s its own, even by breaking laws in broad daylight.

The numerous controversial issues like Education City and Mines and also blatant corruption issues like Trowa, Denchi compensation, Chinese City buses, Gyelpozhing, and other projects indicate the rise of an Oligarchy of well connected individuals and families protected and served by this autocracy.

In the absence of a strong opposition and civil society the role of constitutional bodies in checking this autocracy is all the more important. However, the autocracy has taken on the ACC, ECB, Judiciary and others and managed to throw a spanner in their works in different ways.

The autocratic system has also successfully subverted the senior levels of the civil service by rewarding the loyal and the connected with plum promotions and postings, while punishing those who do not fall in line.

For the autocratic power structure the biggest obstacle is a vocal, diverse and critical media. The government using a system of economic sanctions targeted specifically this paper to send a message to all others on the consequences of criticizing the government. The fact that the government still continues with the sanctions even after being publicly exposed is additional proof of its autocratic behavior.

This autocratic government did not even spare the institution of the Monarchy. In a highly dubious and in transparent way the government introduced a new Land Bill that would give Land Kidu powers to the cabinet and remove the Gyalpoi Zimpon along with other government secretaries from the National Land Commission (NLC)in favor of ministers. This legislation was only postponed when there was a public outcry and it was pointed out that it would be unconstitutional.

Another autocratic example of this government was the stubborn refusal of the government to focus on serious domestic economic problems and instead focus on promoting GNH.

This autocratic machinery repeatedly makes use of fear to control people and attack its opponents.

As the very basis of autocracy is based on the suppression of diverging opinions, government critics are attacked using lies, untruths, conspiracy theories and half-baked information. The government has a propaganda machine for this that takes advantage of vulnerable, sycophantic, gullible and unprofessional elements in the media.

For the sake of the nation’s very future and in the interest of growing a healthy democracy Bhutan cannot mistake autocratic leadership for stability or good leadership. These is because autocracy in Bhutan is visibly giving rise to Oligarchy, institutionalized Corruption, poor governance, economic problems, the subversion of  press freedom, loss of  individual rights and ultimately the subversion of our young democracy. Far from giving stability it encourages instability and disharmony.

In the international context autocracy and its accompanying features like the political leadership cult have gone horribly wrong for the people as seen in the examples of Maoism, Stalinism, King Jong IL, Mubarak, Gaddafi and etc.


“In order to get power and retain it, it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning and cruelty”
Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi

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  1. I can clearly understand this newspaper is really not happy with the government. The author gives the meaning of autocracy but does not understand himself. If the country was under autrocacy, would you have been allowed to write this article? Did the DPT grab the power or people elected them through secret ballot? Do you think that democracy should be like that of Burma, Iran, Cuba, etc? Also, this paper always talks against the promotions of GNH. But, remember that the king ordered on having a committee under PM’s chairmanship to promote GNH on the international level. So, we know what you try to say but we will analyse better.

  2. Considering all the points in this critique of the present government there are few points in my opinion that surprises me as a Bhutanese. Statements such as “Instead of a fresh start the current regime using a combination of fear tactics, intimidation, people’s inbuilt cultural conditioning, undermining of democratic institutions, ad-hoc decisions and dictatorial governance style, has taken Bhutan back to the past ” are at best callous and insensitive. Are you saying that all our forefathers from the time of great Guru Rimpoche, Zhabdrung Rimpoche and succeeding spiritual and temporal leaders to our Monarchs can be spoken in the same breath? Have they not laid such strong foundations for a democratic system. Much of today’s peace and stability despite all the dissension, systemic and personality flaws is proof enough that they have laid strong values in place for a democratic system to take birth. Thanks to the deeper spiritual and temporal values that they have preserved and passed on, that Bhutan today does not have to experience violent protest, conflicts and schism like the rest of the world. To underscore everything that the past have contributed with one sweeping statement seems rather inappropriate for a responsible media. History is etched in the minds of Bhutanese and media needs to be more responsible in providing the fact straight by not only feeding onto the negatives. Having said that i do agree that the present government and its leaders need to loosen their hangups from the past, listen more and clean up their own act in this new system. Five years is a long time to clean up your acts and not be overwhelmed by the lure of power and pelf alone. Our leaders ought to be very mindful that this small nation of 700000 is at stake for whatever political games they play. Lastly i do hope that these articles are not written to settle personal score but rather to inform the truth as the Bhutanese from the past and present know. The Bhutanese citizens are watching with hope and optimism for a cleaner, just, peaceful and a prosperous Bhutan. Let the truth prevail.

  3. The common man

    Woooooooooooowwwwww… bull’s eye….

  4. If it is NOT for the democracy the editor would not be writing such editorial which does not really provide any alternative views. The editor and this paper certainly seem to have got intimidated by this government for whatever reasons. Something however tells me that all the reasons that the editor mentioned such as Gyelpozhing, Denchi, Lottery and Trowa are NOT really the reasons. Spread of false messages to the public is a definitive thing that this paper is doing.

    There is no Oligarchy in Bhutanese democracy, it is not the fault of DPT to have old ministers in their party. The people elected them. And they could easily get NOT elected by the people next time, depending on their performance. If MPs or the party members are not able to raise issues against the PM or the president, it is not the fault of the PM. MPs should be able to raise their concerns, issues and opinions especially if they think it is not in the larger interest of Bhutan and Bhutanese. The editor of this paper doesn’t have to tell them. The people will assess and decide.

    While I do not agree with some policies and the way the current government had function thus far, I would still stick to it. I trust the current government more than the editor of this paper. Interestingly the editor has also mentioned about cultural thingy. He had indicated that the current government emphasizes on the cultural importance thereby imprisoning people. ‘Damn you Mr. Editor, just because there is a democracy, it doesn’t mean you act like a punk with no manners’. The editor definitely seem to have no knowledge of how our rich cultural heritage had helped us preserve our identity and the sovereignty. And if he shows no respect to such end, I will have no remorse if the editor gets removed.

    The editor seems to be dreaming of the chaos that happened in middle east. Wishfully wanting to happen it in Bhutan too. He went on to name the so called dictators and indicated that our leaderships are no different. This is bit too far from the editor. I really doubt the motive of this paper. Is this paper going limitless defaming JYT? Has TL sworn to bring down JYT at any cost?

  5. Rename this paper as personal attack paper instead of public news paper.

  6. Dictatorial (sic) democracy rather !!!!

  7. FANTASTIC ARTICLE. To the point, well done. JYT must be stopped for the sake of our future. Otherwise inter generational equity will be in jeopardy.

    Keep fighting The Bhutanese.

  8. This newspaper is struggling to find new to write. So, it keeps on making articles about the present government. You can write thousands of such articles, but it is not a news. You may have a personal hatred towards the present PM. But, he won the elections in 98, 2003 and 2008 not because you describe him to be like. It is because of his knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, capability, charisma, personality, destiny and so on. Please, look at the mirror for yourself before you complain about others.

  9. Square and fair

    It is not difficult to concur with the assertions this article makes. Additionally, lower middle class and poor rural Bhutanese do not have a choice as long as oligarchic traditions and cultures reign supreme in Bhutan. In the name of cultural and traditional values, ‘tha dam tse and le-judre’, and  “gom dang yog’ there is a lot of exploitation and corruption deeply embedded not only in the Bhutanese society but in the supposedly apolitical bureaucracy too. Dashoism in Bhutan is becoming a curse but the good news is our youths are becoming bolder and are more keen on global culture than traditional Bhutanese culture (which of course must be preserved but is used for oligarchic gains). 

    As Thought stated, Bhutan has not experienced violent protest, conflicts and schism like the rest of the world yet the fast changing morals among our younger generation, the development and frequency of newer and severe crimes on our streets surely point to a future not far from violent protests, political instability and societal disharmony (bw haves and have-nots).

    In fact this article has pointed out all the facts that the younger generations are cognizant of. Bhutanese are becoming more aware of the hypocrisy of Bhutanese democracy, Oligarchy, and institutionalized Corruption. If the government is far-sighted, it is not yet late to make amendments and change!

  10. I think Bhutanese Lamzang really needs to experience autocracy. If it is autocracy, can Tenzin Lamzang really write what he writes best callous answer is no.

    Yes, we need to loosen up more as democracy but then autocracy? May be TL finds it synonym when he refers dictionary.
    If you have read Land Bill as i have King was never removed for giving Kidu….. Please refer the land Bill again… .

  11. The Bhutanese bungled that one major and Thought has rightly given them a wrap on the knuckles they deserve and should never forget.  Let”s keep some things sacred, wai.   

  12. jyt, from the first i knew, in 1978 national day he was manpower then,i saw ego, proudy and dictator outlook. it was a bhutanese foolishness to believe such hunchback crook man. Today i see no difference between him and some african ruler like Mughabe of Zimbabee Al Bashir of sudan. He will not leave this poser until his death.
    We Bhutanese just look and bow to his ass..

  13. Yes i agree with this paper. People (may be chamchas) think and also say the present group leader are the only one who can lead this country and no one. That sucks me up. And that also makes them believe that they are the ones and they can do anything. In 2013 election if some of them gets elected, they will be in minsters post for 20 years by 2018. Do they really deserve that much of power and recognition?
    Time has come to change and it is the civil servants who should be the game changer. They are the ones who chose the power and they should be the one who should be the power changer in 2013.
    By imposing economic embargo on The Bhutanese for being critical of the government, people at the highest level has shown their real color. Throw them out and let us get new set of leader who are corrupt free.

    • Your argument says you are only frustrated because some of the leaders are going to hold ministerial post for 20 years or so if they get re-elected. So what? If people elects them, they can be. For your information, time has never changed and it never will. It is us that change, it is us who need to change, its our attitude that need to change. I never hold current leaders accountable for the corruptions that took place in a different system. And that old system I would like to cherish and enjoy. So unless you change your attitude you will never be happy.

      • The common man

        So true… so true about the need to change the attitude.. i’m completely with Mr. phuntso (unless u r dasho). I too feel it is high time we change this current set of corrupted leaders though. JYT  has proven beyond doubts that he is corrupt n promotes chamchagiri. Look at all the post of ambassadors n secretaries. It can’t be a coincident never… we could understand one or two but….. hmmm sth fishy here.
        yes, need for change in attitude is the need of the hour but it is not anyone else but the elected leaders of Bhutan. With right attitude JYT can be the greatest leader Bhutan has ever produced…..
        Clever people with right attitude can become Abrahim Linchon but with distorted attitude Adlfo hitler….

  14. It’s all due to old-fashioned ministers, lost in thoughts of supremacy, want of more power, too much egocentric…..

  15. I will be more apprehensive and cautious with people like Phuntsho and likes than with JYT and his cohorts. Irrational, emotional outbursts and rousing interpersonal disharmony is more attritious than systematically dealing with carefully fabricated schemes of calculating minds.

  16. A fantastic summary and analysis of the current state of the affairs with the dpt leadership. This is the only paper that dare write some truths. Pl keep it up!

  17. Come on now.. Bhutan was not so bad in the past. Each and every one of our ancestors built this beautiful and peaceful nation. Much of the world outside Bhutan is not paradise nor are they very happy.. There are all kinds of problems there too. We Bhutanese keep insinuating things that Bhutan was bad in the past and continues to get worse. We need to change our attitude to be happy. Yes I do agree that some of the Bans and restrictions (cigarette, meat, alochol, vehicle taxes etc) were not at all good but it is not like everything is banned here. Just a thought.. and yes Bhutan does need a bigger and smarter opposition next time for more checks and balances

  18. The Bhutanese paper may write anything….I am only for DPT and i will sure vote for DPT, I will encourage my friends, relatives and others to vote for DPT….because i don’t want see our country ruled by inexperienced leaders who would actually spoil whatever has been achieved by our farsighted leaders.

  19. Before democracy was introduced our Kings ensured that there would be “Check and Balance” once we became a democracy. institutions like ACC etc were established and the judiciary and media were strengthened. Now that we are a democracy these institutions need to play their role for a successful democracy. Do keep up the good work – thebhutanese. 

    Governments will come and go and whichever government comes into power your paper will have to continue what you are presently doing – keep informing the people of the truth.

    Your contribution will make a difference to the 2013 Elections!!!

  20. save you heads my dears,,,,,there is nothing you can do. JYT is still prevailing…your blabs wouldn’t change anything. i think i hate him more, but i have learnt to know my limitations. who would dare go against him. when he comes around you have to put on charde, when he says didn’t you obey? how foolish, we are unhappy with our own appointed PM

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