Bhutan is a small, landlocked country located on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, between India and China.
Bhutan is a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy with His Majesty the King as the Head of the State and a democratically elected Prime Minister as the Head of the Government.
His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the Head of the State and Dasho Tshering Tobgay from the Peoples Democracy Party is the Head of the Executive Branch and the Prime Minister.
Bhutan transitioned to a democracy in 2008 and has thus far witnessed two rounds of parliamentary elections: in 2008 and 2013. The next parliamentary elections are slated to be held in 2018.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan adopted on 18 July 2008 is the supreme law of the country that provides for the governance of the country.
The Parliament of Bhutan is the highest legislative body and comprises of His Majesty the King and a bicameral system with the National Assembly as the Upper House and the National Council as the lower house.
Judicial authority of Bhutan is vested in the Royal Courts of Justice comprising the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Dzongkhag Court, the Dungkhag Court and such other Courts and Tribunals that may be established time to time on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission.
GEOGRAPHY AND TERRAIN
The entire area Bhutan, spanning 38,394 square kilometers, is mountainous, excluding a narrow band of subtropical plains traversed by low valley and passes in the south. The lowest recorded elevation is a little over 300 meters above sea level and rises up to over 7,000 metres of glacier-covered mountains.
Physical geography consists mostly of steep and high mountains crisscrossed by a network of swift rivers, which form deep valleys before draining into the Indian plains.
Within this latitudinal range are found a diverse biodiversity rich enough to be considered as one of ten global environmental ‘hotspots’. About 72.5 per cent of the area is under forests, and the Constitution of Bhutan requires the country to maintain 60 per cent forests cover for all times to come.
Bhutan is possibly the only region in the world that provides a habitat such the mythical snow leopard and mighty tiger traverse, including other rare and endangered species like the takin, red panda and golden langur. With a rich ecological range of tropical lowlands to alpine meadows, Bhutan harbours an immense diversity of plants and animals that places it among the top ten countries in the world in terms of species density.
A conscious policy of isolation complemented by geographical barriers enabled Bhutan to maintain its independence throughout history.
Ancient stone implements and other archaeological findings indicate there were settlements in Bhutan dating back to 2000 B.C.
Advent of Buddhism
The recorded history of the kingdom, however, begins with the advent of Buddhism in the 8th Century following the visit of Guru Padmasambhava in 747 A.D. Buddhism has occupied a predominant role in shaping the social political, economic and cultural evolution of the country. In the centuries that followed, lamas or Buddhist teachers and local nobility established their own separate domains throughout the country.
Unification of Bhutan
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1652), a leader of the Drukpa Kargyu School of Buddhism unified the country in the 17th century, under a central authority and established a system of governance known as Choe-si, whereby temporal and religious authority were separated and vested in the Druk Desi (temporal head) and Je Khen-po(Spiritual Head). By the end of the 17th century, the country achieved a high degree of political stability and developed a distinct national and cultural identity.
Instability resurfaced by the second half of the 18th century due to internal dissent, and external threats in the latter half of the 19th century added a new dimension to the political quandary. It was against this background that the need for strong leadership emerged and was found in the person of the Trongsa Penlop, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck.
Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck became the 1st hereditary king of Bhutan on December 17, 1907, with the signing and sealing of the Oath of Allegiance by an assembly comprising of representatives of the monastic community, officials and the common people that recognized him as Druk Gyal-po.
The establishment of the monarchy ushered in an era of peace and stability, and most significantly unified the country under a central authority. It also set in motion the gradual opening of the country to the outside world and laid the foundation of Bhutan as a modern nation state. The modern health and education system of present day Bhutan can be traced to the first king’s reign.
His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck (1926-1952), the 2nd Druk Gyalpo initiated several processes, particularly in the program of health and education of Bhutanese abroad. The country’s move towards modernization also saw continued efforts of his father’s modernization efforts to build more schools, dispensaries, and roads within Bhutan.
His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952-1972) became the 3rd Druk Gyalpo and instituted far-reaching political, social, and economic reforms. He established the National Assembly, the High Court, the Royal Advisory Council and a system of governance responsive to social and economic requirements of the people. He started the planned development process in 1961 and guided Bhutan’s membership in the United Nations in 1971, ensuring the kingdom a place in the international community.
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne in 1974 as 4th Druk Gyal-po , and has always dedicated himself to defining and promoting a long-term vision and direction for the country. His benevolent reign from 1972 to 2007 has brought unprecedented progress and achievements across many fields including economic, social and political fields, among others. A most significant contribution by His Majesty was in the devolution of power from the throne to the people through a gradual but deliberate process lasting over three decades. After steering the country through dramatic developments, and preparing the country for parliamentary democracy, His Majesty abdicated in favor of the Crown Prince.
His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as the 5th Druk Gyalpo has successfully steered the country through a most sensitive time in Bhutan’s history with the country’s first democratic parliamentary elections on 31st December 2007 for the Upper House or the National Council followed by the elections on March 24th 2008 for the Lower House or the National Assembly.
Transition to Democracy
His Majesty’s guidance has marked the peaceful transition of Bhutan into a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy as envisioned by the 4th King. Bhutan is fortunate that the 5th King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck embodies the vision and wisdom of his father and represents the youthful vigour and dynamism of modern Bhutan entering a new era.
CULTURE AND SOCIETY
Bhutan is the last surviving kingdom of Himalayan Buddhist culture and Druk-pa Ka-gyu, one of the major schools of Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan.
Bhutan today enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita in South Asia. The people are provided with free education and health services and much of the country is covered by road and telecommunications infrastructure.
The social fabric is neatly woven around time-tested values and the age-old culture of Bhutan is still intact.
The official language is Dzongkha but English is increasingly common.