2008 has been a year of tremendous change in the small Kingdom of Bhutan and for its people. There has probably never been a case before, in which such contradictory events took place within a few months, while at the same time surprisingly in perfect line with the path on which Bhutan embarked decades ago. Having been called to the polls to choose their representatives for the National Council (Gyelyong Tshogde), the upper chamber of parliament, on a non-partisan basis, the first multiparty elections for the National Assembly (Tshogdu) took place on 24 March 2008. By achieving a turnout of almost 80 per cent, participation was extraordinary high, even for a founding election. Three months later the newly convened parliament in a joint sitting passed the country’s first ever written constitution, thus formally transforming the century old kingdom into a constitutional monarchy. Finally, on 6 November 2008 the fifth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, was enthroned and received the Raven Crown from the hands of his father, who abdicated in 2006. Bhutan had changed its face and at the same time once again found the middle path between progressive development and traditional preservation on which the fourth king guided his country without hesitation in recent decades.
The 35 articles of the constitution grant all major classical rights and liberties to the people and provide for a democratic form of government, though the structure of the new system is quite unique in its shape and configuration. Taking into consideration the people’s attitudes towards politics and the country’s unique culture and tradition, the result is an interesting combination of consensual and majoritarian elements of democracy, topped by the unique role of the monarch within the polity, which rather resembles the role of a president in presidential or semi-presidential system, instead that of a constitutional monarch in Western constitutional democracies. The coming years will have to show whether the system will work properly, or if further adjustments will need to be made.