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Profile: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

THE KING'S ANCIENT TITLES:
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
Supreme Protector Of The People
The Great Elected One
The Upholder Of The Law

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 28, is one of the youngest monarchs in the world.

But despite his relative youth, the Bhutanese king has not been thrown in at the deep end.

His father Jigme Singye Wangchuck - who himself acceded to the throne when aged only 16 - took great pains to ensure that Khesar was prepared to take over the throne before his abdication in December 2006.

The young king has a difficult act to follow. His father won international acclaim for his role in turning Bhutan into a constitutional monarchy while his emphasis on gross national happiness - the idea that spiritual and mental well-being are more important than material prosperity - made him the darling of development groups the world over.

The crown prince was educated in India and the US before attending Oxford University to read politics and international relations.

After graduating, the future monarch was encouraged by his father to travel abroad and represent his country of 600,000 people.

In a country where the monarchy remains revered - unlike in neighbouring Nepal - the future king has not had to try too hard to win over his people.

THE KING'S MODERN TITLES:
Protector Of The Nation's Security
Guardian Of The Constitution
Inspiration For Gross National Happiness

That's because many are already staunch royalists and some openly wept when they heard news of King Jigme's plans to curb the powers of the monarchy.

Evidence of the reverence in which Bhutan's monarch is still held was clearly seen in June 2006 when the then crown prince represented his country in Thailand for King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 60th anniversary celebrations.

His boyish good looks not only created a stir among numerous Thai female fans but also won rave reviews in his home country, where his "diplomacy, charm and diplomatic finesse" was praised extensively in the press.

Jigme Khesar is the oldest son of Jigme Singye and his third wife, Queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
The new king commands the devotion of most of his people

He has a younger sister and brother as well as four half-sisters and three half-brothers by his father's other three wives - all of his father's wives are sisters. The new king is unmarried.

The young king began his reign without being officially crowned but was nevertheless confronted by a series of challenges that would have taxed the wisest of monarchs.

Prominent among them was overseeing the final stages of democratisation in his country before the elections of March 2008.

Like his father, the new king stressed that it was critically important that his country completed the process of becoming a constitutional monarchy despite the reluctance of many of his subjects to see any diminution of the monarch's powers.

He travelled extensively around the country encouraging people to take part in the vote - in which both main parties competed for power on similar manifestos, utterly loyal to their king.

"Even though in terms of governance we are now a democracy, there is no elected individual who will enjoy the kind of respect, trust, confidence and reverence our kings enjoy," Bhutan's first democratically elected Prime Minister, Jigmi Y Thinley, told Reuters in an interview.

Perhaps the most high-profile challenge for the newly-elected government is resolving once and for all with Nepal the future of thousands of ethnic Nepalese, who used to live in Bhutan but who were forced to take refuge in camps in Nepal more than a decade ago.

Their status is still in dispute even though many have with the help of international agencies emigrated to the US, Canada and Australia.

The new king will also be eager to ensure that his government does not upset Bhutan's larger neighbour, India, which is known to be concerned about what it says is the presence of Assamese rebels in the south of the kingdom.

King Khesar has already signed a new treaty of friendship with India in February 2007, replacing a 1949 treaty. Delhi retains a strong influence over Bhutan's foreign policy.

Above all the new king will be eager to ensure that the Bhutanese monarchy does not suffer the same fate as the royal family in Nepal.

The forward thinking of his father in scaling back the monarchy - and the popularity which has so been lavished on his son - make that an unlikely proposition.

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SEE ALSO
Bhutan experiments with democracy
25 Mar 08 |  South Asia
US congratulates Bhutan on vote
25 Mar 08 |  South Asia
Bhutan holds its first elections
31 Dec 07 |  South Asia
Timeline: Bhutan
25 Mar 08 |  Country profiles

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