Long-time readers of New Mandala will know that we have occasionally highlighted the relationship between Bhutan and Thailand and, in particular, the Thai love affair with Bhutan’s new king (see, for example, 9 August, 29 November, 18 December and this article).

Since the new king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, a 27-year old Oxford-graduate, took the throne in late 2006 Bhutan has continued its transition to a system of “Democratic Constitutional Monarchy”. An integral part of this process has been the drafting of a new constitution (available here).

Those who have closely followed recent constitutional developments in Thailand will find some interesting comparisons in Bhutan’s draft charter.

Some elements of the Bhutanese constitution that New Mandala readers may find especially relevant are:

Article 2 – The Institution of the Monarchy

6. Upon reaching the age of sixty-five years, the Druk Gyalpo [the King] shall step down and hand over the Throne to the Crown Prince or Crown Princess, provided the Royal Heir has come of age.

15. The Druk Gyalpo shall not be answerable in a court of law for His actions and His person shall be sacrosanct.

Article 3: Spiritual Heritage

1. Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance.

2. The Druk Gyalpo is the protector of all religions in Bhutan.

Article 5: The Environment

3. The Government shall ensure that, in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time.

Article 8: Fundamental Duties

3. A Bhutanese citizen shall foster tolerance, mutual respect and spirit of brotherhood amongst all the people of Bhutan transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities.

Article 9: Principles of State Policy

1. The State shall endeavour to apply the Principles of State Policy set out in this Article to ensure a good quality of life for the people of Bhutan in a progressive and prosperous country that is committed to peace and amity in the world.

2. The State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.

Article 15: Political Parties

1. Political parties shall ensure that national interests prevail over all other interests and, for this purpose, shall provide choices based on the values and aspirations of the people for responsible and good governance.

2. Political parties shall promote national unity and progressive economic development and strive to ensure the well-being of the nation.

3. Candidates and political parties shall not resort to regionalism, ethnicity and religion to incite voters for electoral gain.

Article 16: Public Campaign Financing

1. Parliament shall, by law, establish a Public Election Fund into which shall be paid every year such amounts as the Election Commission may consider appropriate to fund registered political parties and their candidates during elections to the National Assembly and candidates to the National Council.

Article 23: Elections

2. In order to provide for informed choice by the voter, a candidate for an elective office shall file, along with his nomination, an affidavit, declaring:

(a) The income and assets of himself, his spouse, and dependent children;

(b) His bio-data and educational qualifications;

(c) His records of criminal convictions, if any; and

(d) Whether he is accused in a pending case for an offence punishable with imprisonment for more than one year and in which charges are framed or cognizance is taken by a court of law prior to the date of filing of such a nomination.

With the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness soon to be held in Nongkhai and Bangkok those interested in further understanding the thinking behind Bhutan’s democratic transition will have an opportunity to hear from some of the people involved in the process. I imagine there will be opportunities at that conference to discuss the constitutional framework that Bhutan is implementing in its ongoing “pursuit of Gross National Happiness”.