When the wave of democratization reaches all the way into the Himalayan hinterlands, people can bet on its power to transform the world. The latest nation to embrace democracy is the mountain kingdom of Bhutan, an isolated agricultural nation between India and China that has been ruled by an absolute monarch since the days of the British raj. Interestingly, the impetus for this radical shift came not from the Bhutanese but apparently from the king himself:
The king of the Himalayan state of Bhutan announced the end of a century of absolute royal rule yesterday with the publication of a draft constitution to establish a multiparty democracy.
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck said that by the end of the year his 700,000 subjects would be given the right to elect two houses of parliament, whose members would be empowered to impeach the monarch by a two-thirds vote.
While the National Assembly has had the impeachment power since 1998, King Jigme’s sudden and radical shift towards multiparty democracy will probably take his subjects by surprise. Most of them had little or no contact with foreigners at all until five years ago, when Jigme opened the country up to tourists for the first time. They’ve only had widespread telephone service for a few years, and their first Internet access points just came on line four years ago. If a country could be described as isolated in today’s era of globalization, Bhutan would fit the bill.
And yet even its absolute monarch sees the writing on the wall for tyranny, no matter how benevolent. We may have started the most potent political movement in Asia since Mao wrote his Little Red Book — and this movement could bring peace to an entire continent once it runs its course.