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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Bhutan unveils new constitution
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk
The 49-year-old king came to the throne when he was 16
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has unveiled a new constitution that will transform the absolute monarchy into a two-party democratic system.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk says the draft will be sent to all 530,000 citizens, asking for their views.

The proposed 34-article constitution outlines the role of the monarchy, clergy and the duties of the people.

Bhutan's chief justice told the BBC a referendum would be held at the end of the year to ratify the constitution.

Steady progress

The proposed code is the culmination of four years of preparation for democracy.

One of its suggestions is for a national council to govern the country that will be filled by members elected to the national assembly.

The country is more important than the king
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk

The constitution will replace the royal decree of 1953 that gave the king absolute power.

Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye told the BBC that the 49-year-old king wanted all Bhutan's citizens to read the draft and send in their suggestions in good time.

The king told the country's only newspaper Kuensel: "The sovereignty, stability and well-being of the country must be placed above everything else. The country is more important than the king."

King Wangchuk assumed the throne at the age 16, the fourth ruler in the Wangchuk dynasty that came to power in December 1907.

The transition began four years ago when the king handed down powers of daily governance to a council of ministers and even empowered the national assembly to force a royal abdication if the motion was backed by three-quarters of its membership.

Observers say Bhutan's slow but steady progress towards democracy is in contrast to developments in Nepal, where King Gyanendra seized power this year and dismissed the elected government.

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