The Only Surviving Monarchy In The Himalayas – What Makes Bhutan’s Monarchy Unique?
“The 1865 battle of Changlingmithang was the last battle before the adoption of the monarchy in 1907.”
By Rinchen Zangmo | Kuensel
Responding to one of the graduates’ question on the form of monarchy which existed in Bhutan before it was reinstated as the constitutional democratic monarchy at the ongoing National Graduates Orientation Programme (NGOP) in Thimphu, the former chairperson of the National Council, Dasho Sonam Kinga explained that Bhutan’s monarchy was unique but it has never been absolute.
The unique features of the Bhutanese Kingship
“Today we talk of the separation of religion and politics. But the Bhutanese state foundation is the interdependence of the spiritual and the secular,” he said. The Bhutanese kingship was and is still a Buddhist kingship but it does not exclude religion and politics, he said.
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Taking the graduates through five different forms of monarchy, he said that Bhutan’s monarchy was adopted at a peaceful time.
“The 1865 battle of Changlingmithang was the last battle before the adoption of the monarchy in 1907.” During the time of peace, major political changes happened in Bhutan, he added.
A brief history regarding the formation of Bhutan’s monarchy
“Bhutan made momentous historic decision in establishing the Palden Druk Zhung in 1626, the monarchy in 1907 and the parliamentary democracy in 2008, all in the time of peace. We could decide our own destiny and directions without external pressure.”
The Bhutanese monarchy is home-grown and domestic, he said. For any nation to qualify as an absolute monarchy, he said that the kings and queens or emperors and empresses must be meant as the incarnation of god.
“As representatives of god, they have the absolute power to do everything. However, our monarchs have been both secular as well as Dharma kings.”
The concept of Dharma kings is different from that of the Deva raja, which is more like the divine kingship of eastern and western European countries, he said.
“The idea of the Dharma king is an internal check and balance of the arbitrary and the possible abuse of power.”
When the first king was enthroned, an agreement was signed between Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck and about 54 representatives of the people, he said.
Bhutan had a national assembly instituted as early as 1953, he said. “Absolute power is the ultimate power to make laws. However in 1968, the third Druk Gyalpo asked the National assembly to cast a vote of no confidence if they didn’t believe in him.”
He also said that the Royal Advisory Council and the Bhutanese people were consulted on matters related to laws at that time, adding that no consultation has ever been done in absolute monarchy.
How the Bhutanese monarchy ensure peace and political stability for its people
The Monarchy, Dasho Sonam Kinga said, brought political stability through a singular line of succession with an average reign of about 27.5 years.
Following the revelation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s death in 1707, multiple candidates and incarnations tried to fill the vacant spot of the Zhabdrung causing fractionalism, which ultimately led to a civil war.
Dasho Sonam Kinga said that there was no political stability along with the gap in the continuity of leadership.
“When Bhutan had a monastic government, the neighbouring countries were all also governed under a monarchy at that time. However, today Bhutan is the only surviving monarchy in the Himalayas.”
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.