Democracy Education Understanding Rights and Responsibilities in Bhutan

Sep 15, 2012

The 2012 International Democracy Day (IDD) was appropriately themed "Democracy Education", befitting Bhutan's young democracy of four years. As with any fledgling democratic nation, there is room for improvement in order to transgress into a vibrant democracy. The core message of the event was to ensure all citizens fully understand their rights and responsibilities, especially in countries that have recently transitioned to more democratic societies.

To share this important day with all Bhutanese, the National Council of Bhutan and the Bhutanese Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) together in partnership with UNDP organized a panel discussion and the launch of three books on Bhutan's democracy in the capital. The three books, "Institu­tions of Democracy"; "Active Citizen's Survival Kit" and "Forums 2011" were all published by UNDP's implementing partner the BCMD.

The UN Secretary Gen­eral, Mr. Ban-Ki moon also conveyed in his global statement the reason why the United Na­tions has continually urged governments to strengthen their national programs devoted to promoting and consolidating democracy. He had also said that "de­mocracies share common features," but that "there is no single model of de­mocracy" and adding that "democracy does not belong to any country or region."

Ms. Claire Van der Vaeren, UNDP Resident Representative shared the mes­sage of the UN's Secretary General, Ban Ki- moon. The reasons to vote, influ­ence the leaders in taking the voices of the people to the forefront and make them accountable were emphasized by asking the questions "Why should I vote? How can I influ­ence my leaders? What can I reasonably expect from my elected officials?" emphasizing these need to be addressed through civic institutions, in the free press and in classrooms.

The panel discussion also held on the same day, led to the conclusion that Bhutanese people are more aware of their rights than their democratic responsibilities. National Council member Dr Sonam Kinga said the right to vote is one of the rights enshrined in the Constitution and it is not limited to a five year cycle. "At the rural level, I see that democracy has been perceived and articulated in the form of demand and respect for resource allocation and competition for entitlements while in the urban society, the discourse has been more shaped by call for transparency and accountability," he said. "However, the issue of fundamental rights for citizens appeared to be more pronounced and emphasized in Bhutan's more urban middle and upper-class society." (Source Kuensel)

Commissioner Kezang Jamtsho said there would be hiccups in a learning democracy but things would fall in place because transparency and accountability, checks and balances do not come overnight. "It has to be nurtured through the system and in a learning democracy, four and half years to me is not a long time," he said. "I don't see any reason why we'll falter again if we understand democracy in the right perspective." (Source Kuensel)

Bhutan's fifth IDD was successful as it was seen as an platform for discussion on democracy, what it involves, the challenges present and the prospects for the future.