The Land of the Thunder Dragon
“The Land of the Thunder Dragon”, Bhutan is the last great Himalayan kingdom. All around it, monarchies have fallen, but somehow, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has survived.
When you start to dig, however, you realise that this should come as no surprise. Bhutan’s mountainous landscape, and the fortresses and dzongs (fortified monasteries) within them, have historically been considered impregnable. The Bhutanese have been largely left to themselves. Recognising the benefits of good relations with their neighbours, however, Bhutan’s kings have taken pragmatic approaches. They worked hard to unite their political enemies within the country, signed a subsidiary alliance with the British to keep control of everything but their foreign affairs, and looked outside Bhutan to see what forms of government worked best in the modern world.
It was the king of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who took the initiative and set up Bhutan’s National Assembly in 1953. He created a royal advisory council and a cabinet. When his son inherited the throne in the 1970s, he continued his father’s reformist tendencies.
Today, Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy. Almost all of the king’s powers have been transferred to the Council of Cabinet Ministers, and the National Assembly has the right to impeach him. Bhutan’s current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is one of the youngest monarchs in the world. He, like his father and grandfather before him, is a reformer, genuinely well liked by his people, and is at pains to ensure they are all beneficiaries of his national policy of Gross National Happiness.
“I will follow in my father’s footsteps. My father set the bar very high. He was a wonderful leader” – King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck