The political system of Bhutan has evolved together with its tradition and culture. It has developed from a fragmented and disoriented rule of the different regions by local chieftains, lords, and clans into the parliamentary democracy we have in place today.
The first move towards a systematic scheme of governance came in 1616 with the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal from Tibet. He introduced the dual system of governance with the Je Khenpo as the spiritual head of the nation and the Desi, as the head of the temporal aspects.
But a breakthrough came about in 1907 when the people unanimously enthroned Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King of Bhutan. He was the man who had proven his mettle by banding together the different Dzongpon and Penlops (governors of the fortress), ending centuries of strife and bringing much-needed stability and peace to the country. Since then, the country has been ruled by successive monarchs of the Wangchuck dynasty.
In a move to ensure more democratic governance of the country, the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck instituted the National Assembly (Tshogdu) in 1953. Every gewog has an elected member representing it in the National assembly. It became a platform where the people’s representatives enacted laws and discussed issues of national importance.
The establishment of the Royal Advisory Council (Lodroe Tshogdu) in 1963 as a link between the king, council of ministers, and the people was another move towards democratization. It also advised the king and the council of ministers on important issues and ensured that projects were implemented successfully.
The institution of Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (District Development Assembly) in 1981 and Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (County Development Assembly) in 1991 by the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was another move towards decentralization.
But the devolution of the power of the King in 1998 to the cabinet ministers was the highest form of decentralization. The King, thereafter, began to serve as the Head of the State while the government was managed by the Prime Minister.
In November 2001, on the advice of the Fourth king, a committee chaired by the Chief Justice of Bhutan was formed to draft the constitution of Bhutan. The constitution was launched in 2008 and with it, a parliamentary democracy was introduced. The progression from Hereditary Monarchy to that a Parliamentary Democracy has been a carefully managed process that culminated in 2008 when Bhutan held its first elections countrywide. Bhutan’s Parliament consists of three important institutions: His Majesty the King, National Council, and National Assembly. The National Council has 25 members. People of 20 dzongkhag (districts) elect 20 members, while His Majesty the King nominates five members to the House as eminent persons. The Council is non-partisan and its members do not belong to any political parties. It is also known as the house of review.
The National Assembly has 47 members elected by people from 47 constituencies. The members belong to two political parties either ruling or opposition. The two political parties in the current National Assembly are Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (ruling) and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (opposition). The ruling party has 30 members and the opposition has 17 members.
However, there are four registered political parties in Bhutan. They are the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), and Bhutan Kuen-nyam Party (DKP). The elections to the National Assembly take place in two tiers – primary and general. The political parties that get the highest and the second highest number of total votes cast in the primary round fight for the general election.
The president of DNT is Dr. Lotay Tshering, the current Prime Minister (2018-2023). DPT’s President is Dr. Pema Gyamtsho also the opposition leader.
The organs of the Bhutanese government comprise the Legislature, Judiciary, and Executive. The ruling political party, the opposition, and the National Council now forms the legislative body.