For 100 years, until April, 2008, the country was ruled by the Wangchuck monarchical dynasty. The country went to the polls to elect the first democratic government in March 2008.What distinguished Bhutan’s democratic transition was that, unlike in most countries where democracy has been achieved through revolution, this change was initiated by the Throne. The people did not want it as they had been more than happy with the monarchy. But it was the King’s belief that the monarchy system of government was inherently flawed as too much depended upon a single individual.
The political change was not a sudden one either. Rather, it was a gradual, deliberate process engineered by His Majesty the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It began in the early 80s when he instituted the decentralization process by devolving power to the Dzongkhag Yargey Tshhogchungs (DYTs) or the district development committees. This was followed a few years later with the Geog Yargey Tshhogdes (GYTs), which were the development committees in the sub-districts that made up the districts. The people elected its members, some of whom were further elected to form the DYTs. Then, elected members from the DYTs went on to represent the people in the then National Assembly, the country’s parliament or supreme legislative body. The true altruism of His Majesty became clear in 1998. In a world where political leaders vie for every bit of power they can grab, the Fourth King dissolved the existing cabinet and devolved his executive powers to a new cabinet of ministers elected by the people. It was at about his time that the king began a process of drafting a new constitution to democratize Bhutan. More than 30 other constitutions were studied before the draft constitution that evolved was taken by Him and the then Crown Prince (now His Majesty the Fifth King), Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, to public meetings with the people. Every clause in every article of the consitution was discussed, and amended where deemed necessary.
In the first democratic election of 2008, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (which translates into People’s Development Party) won a landslide victory over the People’s Democratic Party. But the institution of the monarchy continues to exist. Even though the King rules in a capacity more titular than de facto, he remains the most respected and, indeed, most beloved personality to the Bhutanese people.
The Bhutanese Parliament is compose of two houses: the National Assembly (or the lower house) with 47 members and the National Council with 25 members ( 20 representing the 20 districts and five nominated by the king).