A young Bhutanese writes about her experience of the coming of Democracy to Bhutan

Namgay Choden, student of Ugyen Academy and one of the winners of an essay competition on Democracy in Bhutan


Namgay Choden is a student of Ugyen Academy in Punakha. She was one of the prize winners for an essay competition on Democracy in Bhutan organized to commemorate World Democracy Day in Bhutan. The essay is reproduced below with her permission.

Tashi Delek and I wish her lots of luck!


Democracy – Gift from the Golden Throne

As of now, I am fifteen. I claim to have seen the world (ahem* exaggerated….a few heartbreaks, some inspirational songs which says life’s a climb, some realizations and some knowledge really takes you a long way). With that I have learned to overcome my fear of democracy and politics.

Honestly admitting, I had always given up on this topic. A tendency that I had been honing since I was six, after I had watched a rather overly dramatic Hindi movie which portrayed the world of politics to be ugly, corrupted and which caused a lot of ‘hartals’(And of-course, the hero from the slums making everything alright in the end!). I would refuse to watch the BBC or NDTV because all they broadcast was the politics crap. Bombing in every second, leaders assassinated and so many tragedies. Seriously, I didn’t need any of it. Blame my hormones!

The first thing was that I could not believe our Fourth Druk Gyalpo abdicating his throne for the next monarch and you could say I was devastated when it was decided that Bhutan would become a constitutional democratic country. Bhutan, the epitome of a paradise which had remained intact as a proud sovereign, in the most peaceful and pristine womb of the Himalayas was going to become a democratic nation? Yeah, right! I am sure I would not be sued for allegedly saying that this is what the whole of the country’s citizens were going through. I remember those cold December days of my junior high years when I would hear of the public consultations, the constitution, the elections and all of these together formed the scariest word of my nightmares— ‘democracy’.

Time flew by and it was already time that the elections were held. That damned thing was everywhere. I would come across my grandmother and her neighbors over a cup of ara importantly discussing politics: “Aaw, our government. Are we really ready for this? I mean all the rush and the BIG responsibility!” “We know. I am still not clear on some of its aspects. For instance, if there is a ruling party, then what on holy God’s name would be the use of the opposition?” “And all we do is get free mindless entertainment by the songs and skits on democracy during the promotional meetings.” I would hear the chorus of sarcastic laughter of mockery. Oh, did I mention my cheeky cousin of eight, who would shout, “its democracy now. People have the right to do whatever they want so let me watch my cartoon if I don’t want to study,”?

It was surely a challenge thrust upon the ever so glorious Bhutanese fame after all. The fact that we could not change this thing was accepted. We had to because it was our part, something which we had always been taught, to trust the government and the King. We had our fingers crossed and prayers by heart. The year of 2008 was a historic year which the Bhutanese will never forget. The entire world watched as Bhutan embraced revolution.

Democracy had been an overwhelming experience for the Bhutanese people. Bhutan’s democratic philosophy is the value of Gross National Happiness it holds in every developmental plan. Therefore, I can see Bhutan towards its way to emerge as a democratic nation judging by the pace it’s moving towards the modern age with its strong identity in terms of traditions and cultures and preserved ecology, inspiring powerful nations of the way the Bhutanese plan to enlighten. But the world we are living in now has drastically changed. It has become a much difficult place to live.

Bhutan had seen a lot of phases under a single man known as our king but things are different now. Democracy has swept in and the government is based on a power to make decisions and another power to object it by raising one’s voice. There are big questions about dealing with economy and political diplomacy to make Bhutan’s way towards development. What will happen is uncertain. But all we do know is that democracy has been a blessing to us. Our monarchs had nurtured its people like their children, entrusting the country’s ancients and unique cultures and traditions and by building a strong foundation of tha-damtse and ley-jumdrey, the moral principles so that one day we would be independent and become responsible for ourselves and our decisions. We could have never made it though where we are presently without our monarchs. It is an immense rush of gratitude that these monarchs had their trust in us to turn over ‘their’ country to its people as they had always believed that the country belonged to its people.

It was when I was redeemed—that I had been wrong about democracy. It was an opportunity to grow and think for what would be best not only for oneself for the nation as a whole. It taught me and the Bhutanese people many lessons from every occasion and I think that we, the Bhutanese people have turned out to be strongly opinionated about having had the value of change within our hands.

We had been under our ever caring benevolent monarchs whose sweat and blood made this nation a place worth to live and appreciate, for a century. What they did for us is something that cannot be felt and understood by just reading through some pages of a history text because there were sentiments of lives being saved and lives being completed. Democracy had given us the purpose of this upbringing. Democracy had given the nation its wings to fly. Democracy was the sacrifice of our monarchs, a gift to us. It was ultimately a liberation, to let go of a supreme power so that it could be held strongly and equally amongst everybody. It was the moment when I felt truly proud to be a Bhutanese, under the Bhutanese King, and to be a democratic country.

By Namgay Choden A

X A Ugyen Academy


About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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