Bhutan is a landlocked Himalayan country with a population of 720,679 (2012). 12% of the population lives in poverty (2012), and life expectancy is 67 years. The country is the last remaining Buddhist monarchy in the Himalayas, and stretches from subtropical plains, on the border of India to sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, on the border of the Tibet autonomous region.
In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.
Till the 1960s the country had no national currency, no telephones, no schools, no hospitals, no postal service and no public services. Bhutan ended its self-imposed isolation in 1961 when the late King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the third monarch, launched Bhutan on the path to modernization, moving out of self-contained traditional rural society. Since then, Bhutan’s development effort has produced all these and more and has not looked back.
Following in his father’s footsteps, the Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck pledged to continue Bhutan’s modernization and introduced a unique development plan for the country to achieve economic self-reliance. This was the Gross National Happiness (GNH) development goal, which encompasses explicit criteria to measure development projects and human progress in terms of society’s greater good. The GNH is upheld by four pillars that aspire to achieve:
Pillar 1: Sustainable and Equitable Socio- Economic Development
Pillar 2: Conservation of the Environment
Pillar 3: Preservation and Promotion of Culture
Pillar 4: Good Governance
During HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s reign, major highlights of the country included the peaceful transition towards the current constitutional democracy, a written Constitution, and a well-established decentralization process. In 2006, HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated the throne in favor of his son the Fifth King HM Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and the investiture ceremony formally took place in November 2008.
Popularly known as K5, HM Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck began his reign and continued overseeing the democratization of his country by presiding over the last sessions of the parliament where electoral laws, land reform and other important issues were deliberated. He stated that the responsibility of this generation of Bhutanese was to ensure the success of democracy.
By 2008, the constitutional democracy of Bhutan was formally established with two political parties, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) contesting the first every historic general elections to the National Assembly. This current system allows for the presence of a stable government in Parliament, chosen of the most preferred from a multi-party system at the primary level. The selection of the constitutional heads is conducted by the Prime Minister, Speaker, the Opposition leader, and the Chief Justice. There is a provision for an interim government, whereby before every election the interim will have no power to decide on policies, but will be there for day-to-day running.
Bhutan’s rapidity and achieving most of its development goals moved the country to a ‘medium development’ level, according to HDI, in 2006, and is now ranked 140th in the world (2012). Although Bhutan has experienced positive economic growth, the country is still dependent on aid to achieve its development targets. Inflation remains high due to its landlocked geography and the country imports food products and fuel.
Currently 12% of the population lives below the national poverty line. Thirty percent of the population is urban and 70% is rural. According to the Poverty Analysis Report 2012 (PAR 2012) poverty in rural areas is 16.7% in comparison to urban poverty at 1.8%. This can be attributed to low levels of agricultural productivity, access to markets and commerce, road infrastructure and the impact of rural-urban migration.
The rising unemployment especially among women and the rapidly growing youth population is a priority for the Royal Government of Bhutan. The country’s unemployment rate is estimated at 2.7% according to the Bhutan Standard of Living Report of 2012 (BLSR 2012). Unemployment rate is higher in the urban areas at 5.8% as compared with 1.6% in the rural areas. It is also concentrated in the younger working-age groups and females at 7.3%.
Across all ages, 72% of males are literate, but only 55% of females, are literate (BLSR 2012). The primary school completion rate is higher for females than for males and estimated at 89%. However secondary school completion rate is lower, at 71% and is much higher in the urban than in the rural areas.
In addition the low percentage of women in decision making positions still requires attention and encouragement. In Parliament of 2008- 2012 less than 14 percent of the MPs are women, and on a local level only one of the 205 village leaders is female.
Bhutan has achieved most of the planned development activities since its implementation successfully and a majority of the important development targets fulfilled. The country has demonstrated high growth levels including expansions of the economic and social physical infrastructure. More importantly, these accomplishments have been achieved in a highly sustainable manner with minimal impact on the physical, social and cultural environments.
As a result, Bhutan remains firmly on track to achieve the MDGs. The targets that have been achieved already include lowering the percentage of under-weight young children, increasing the gross enrolment of children at the primary level of schooling, increasing the gender balance between boys and girls in primary schools, increasing access to improved water sources, and lowering poverty to below 15%.
The following highlights some of the concrete achievements in socio-economic development attained by the time the new democratically elected government took over. Bhutan’s GDP per capita has risen to an all time high of US $ 1, 200 in 2006 from US$ 835 in 2002. Even in absolute terms this represents a fairly high level of GDP per capita by both LDC and regional standards.
The country’s growth is demonstrated by poverty reduction, expanded educational enrolments, impressive declines in child and maternal mortality and securing high access levels in the provisioning of water and sanitation facilities. These accomplishments appear particularly noteworthy given that only a few decades ago, Bhutan was ranked among the poorest countries in the world with extremely low levels of human and social development.
Politically, and most notably, the millennia period witnessed the drafting and national consultation on the Tsa Thrim Chhenmo or Constitution that formally marked the historic transition in Bhutan’s political system to a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. The democratization processes in Bhutan was ushered peacefully under the leadership of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. These historic changes in the political strcuture were introduced at a time of unprecedented peace and economic prosperity for the improved social conditions and general well-being of the nation and the people.