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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 10:49 GMT
Tiny Bhutan mulls small constitution
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC correspondent in Calcutta

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk
The king is said to want a "slick but comprehensive document"
Politicians in Bhutan are studying a new constitution which, befitting the tiny Himalayan kingdom, could be one of the smallest in the world.

The draft constitution has only 34 articles, but King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, says he is open to suggestions on having more.

The king began the path to democracy by handing over day-to-day affairs to a council of ministers at the millennium.

The absolute monarchy started in 1907 with the king's great grandfather.

Security situation

The national assembly, largely symbolic so far, will debate the draft constitution and make recommendations.

The document will then be distributed to the people of Bhutan for discussion early next year.

In view of the failures of the political parties in Nepal, the Bhutanese may opt for party-less democracy
Gautam Basu, writer

The biggest issue of debate will be whether Bhutan should have a party system or a direct democracy without parties, where people would vote for the person they felt was the best candidate in a particular constituency.

A national assembly member from Samdrup Jongkhar district, who asked not to be named, said: "The king told us we must deliberate on the draft constitution with all seriousness and as extensively as possible. He wants it to be a slick but comprehensive document."

The king, on a visit to India, said the draft was ready "sometime back" but could not be distributed for national debate because of the "security situation" in some parts of the kingdom.

The Bhutanese army moved against rebels from north-east India in the southern part of the kingdom in December last year.

The rebels suffered heavy casualties but Bhutan has been on guard since then, anticipating retaliatory attacks.

Refugees

The king has said the 39-member drafting committee, headed by the chief justice of Bhutan's Supreme Court, has "done a great job in drafting the constitution".

Thimpu valley, Bhutan
Citizenship and refugees will be a big issue for the small kingdom

The country's only newspaper, Kuensel, quoted the king as saying: "The constitutions of many countries have been closely studied, not to be duplicated, but to draw on their strengths and to adopt elements that were relevant and beneficial for Bhutan."

Gautam Basu, author of a book on Bhutan, says: "In view of the failures of the political parties in neighbouring Nepal, the Bhutanese may opt for party-less democracy."

Citizenship laws will be one area of fierce controversy.

Leaders of Bhutanese refugees now staying in Nepal have demanded the constitution be circulated to the refugees there.

Refugee leader, Ratan Gazmere, asked: "How can there be genuine democracy when thousands of Bhutanese refugees are forced to live outside the kingdom?"

Some experts believe any changes will be cosmetic and real power will lie with the palace.

Indian professor AC Sinha, author of several books on Bhutan, says the king is piloting the change and will subtly ensure his position.

But the king's advisers insist he is liberal and progressive and will do everything to provide his people with an effective framework for governance.


SEE ALSO:
Bhutan moves towards democracy
07 Dec 02 |  South Asia
'Constitutional monarchy' for Bhutan
21 Oct 02 |  South Asia
Bhutan celebrates its monarchy
02 Jun 02 |  South Asia
Pro-democracy demo in Bhutan
27 Jan 99 |  South Asia
Bhutan opposition split on reforms
09 Jul 98 |  South Asia
King's power curbed
01 Jul 98 |  South Asia
Bhutan debates constitution
29 Jun 98 |  South Asia
Country profile: Bhutan
03 Dec 03 |  Country profiles


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