The monarchs of Bhutan have been the fountainhead of the country’s progress and modernization. Since the emergence of the hereditary monarchy in 1907, the kings have followed a path of smooth and gradual modernization. The institution of the Monarchy has propelled Bhutan to where it is today.
Ugyen Wangchuck was born in Wangdicholing Palace in 1862. This put to an end the Desi system of governance and marked the dawn of a new era of peace and stability. And in 1910, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk signed the Treaty of Punakha with British India, securing Bhutan’s sovereignty.
The Monarchy: King Jigme Wangchuck, the 2nd king, ascended the Golden Throne in 1926. In 1949, he signed the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty, revising the 1910 Treaty of Punakha and further
Strengthening the relationship with India. This treaty became the foundation of the journey of friendship between India and Bhutan.
The Monarchy: It was the third Druk Gyalpo (King) Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952–1972), who was dedicated to political reforms and began the critical process of democratic institutionalization. Known as the Father of Modern Bhutan, he abolished serfdom and capital punishment shortly after he became king. He also established the National Assembly in 1953, started the country’s socio-economic development with first Five Year Plan in 1961, set up the first councilor of ministers and judiciary in 1968, and was integral in Bhutan becoming a member of the United Nations in 1971.
The Monarchy: The 4th king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, assumed the Golden Throne in 1974 at the age of 19. A few years into his reign, His Majesty made one of the most profound statements of the 20th Century on development philosophy ~ “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”. This philosophy was conceived based on the fundamental belief that the purpose of development must create conditions that will allow the citizens to pursue happiness, where happiness is viewed as the greatest human wealth.
The process of democratization and devolvement of power continued with the formation of the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogchung (District Development Committee) in 1981 and the Gewog Yargye Tshogchung (Block Development Committee) in 1991, both consisting of elected members.
In 2006, His Majesty surprisingly announced his abdication. This announcement shocked the Bhutanese people; but His Majesty refused to retract the decision. It was first time in world history that a monarch voluntarily, without any internal or external pressure whatsoever, gave up his powers for his commitment to political reforms and his nation
In March 2008, Bhutan successfully conducted its first parliamentary election, and in November 2008 His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned as the fifth Dragon King.
The transition to democracy did not happen overnight. It was a long process of successive developments beginning from the inception of the hereditary monarchy in 1907, and culminating in this statement by His Majesty, the fourth druk Gyalpo – the “Monarchy is not the best form of government because a king is chosen by birth and not be merit. The people of Bhutan must be able to establish a system which works for them.” As such, democracy has always been a part of Gross National Happiness.
The world has not witnessed such a peaceful, unique, and voluntary transition to democracy. It’s a legacy of a great King and his love for his people and humanity.