CONFERENCE UPDATE: Exchanging notes of experience

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Source: Kuensel Online

13 October, 2009 – Participants from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and South Africa shared their experiences with democracy on the first day of the international democracy conference being held in Paro, which saw extensive discussions on the foundations of democracy.

The Bhutanese constitution’s provision of a two party system is a good start, but people who do not subscribe to the two parties could face a lack of outlets and policy making, said Dr Narayan Khadka, a member of the constituent assembly of Nepal.

“If you don’t give them the opportunity to participate, they might look for other outlets, which could be volatile,” he said. “The lesson from the Nepali experience,” said Dr Khadka, “is that you mustn’t restrict, democracy should be open and transparent, ensure every citizen’s access to the government.”

Speaking on the foundations of democracy, Professor Henry S Richardson, department of philosophy, George Washington university, said the separation of church (religion) and state should be re-thought, especially because of an absence of values in society today.

Although not calling for the elimination of the secularity of the state, Professor Richardson said, he did not think democracy alone was an ideal system. “The role of religion in politics could serve as a critique, and contribute to the democratic process,” he said.

National council member of Trashigang, Sonam Kinga, also addressed the conference on the formation process of the Bhutanese constitution.

Asked how people of different faiths of Bhutan had reacted to the constitution’s link with Buddhism during the question-answer period, Sonam Kinga said the Constitution does not prescribe a state religion, although it acknowledges that Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan. He said that the secular tendencies of the Bhutanese state are upheld by the constitutional provision that pre-requires religion and politics to be separate. He also pointed out article 7.4 of the constitution, which, he said, is a strong statement concerning the Bhutanese state’s accommodation of different faiths.

Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi, who attended the conference, said the most significant aspect of yesterday’s conference, for him personally, was on respecting diversity, which the Constitution of Bhutan already addressed adequately. He also said that another aspect, discussed yesterday, was that there is no form of perfect democracy. “It was insightful to hear that we can have our own kind of democracy,” said the minister.

UNDP assistant administrator, Ajay Chhibber, asked about what areas of democracy in Bhutan could be improved. He said Bhutan was doing very well on development indicators, and that it would not take long for Bhutan to catch up to other countries, since most democracies are still “imperfect”.

But he added that Bhutan needed better disaster management, and that the government needed to be prepared for future disasters. He said an immediate way to improve democracy in Bhutan is to “build back better,” referring to the reconstruction process.

The international conference will continue discussions on the experiences with democracy of participating countries today. Civic rights and participation will also be discussed during the afternoon.

The conference on deepening and sustaining democracy is organised by the centre for Bhutan studies and funded by UNDP.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro

1 COMMENT

  1. Bi-party democratic Bhutan is holding international conference without hesitation from this 11 October to teach the lesson of democracy for the whole Asia continent. Can the suppresser of democracy and dictator government teach democratic norms and values to other? Why this extreme shamefulness is being performed? In addition, why are the so-called intellectuals across the world( who can play the significant role to wipe out the root of dictatorship from Bhutan if they wish) going to learn the lesson of democracy on the lap of Bhutanese king? Universal democratic movements should not take it lightly for the incidence in which supporters of democracy step into the country where it has a mannequin government formed after the forceful eviction of one-sixth population according to the ethnic cleeansing policy. In this regards, we human rights activists had also organized interactive program few days before to condemn the conference. This program was widely covered by mass media revealing the the plan of INSEC president Subodh Raj Pyakurel, one of the invitees of the conference, to present himself strongly against Bhutan in the conference, Bhutan denied to give him a visa. This reflect the ill intension of Bhutan to organize the such cosmetic program.

    Bhutan, which does not like to pronounce ‘human rights’, had signed the convention on Child Rights (CRC) and convention to eradicate all the discrimination against women (CEDAW) respectively in 1990 and 1981. However, Bhutan has been violating these two conventions depriving the fundamental rights including rights to education, health for not being able to make ‘No Objection Certificate’ especially for the Neplease speaking community. The clause 7 of the CRC convention clearly mention that member country must provide birth registration of every children who born in the country and give them citizenship after they reach the certain age. However, the children of the citizenship certificate-less parents who were born after 1990, who are now in the eligible age to obtain citizenship, are not provided citizenship and because of the reason, they are not enrolled in schools and universities. From these instances, it is apparent that Bhutan is mocking the international instruments of which it is a member country. Similarly, after signing CEDAW convention by Bhutan in 1981, woman married with Bhutanese and their children are treated as foreigners and therefore has been restricted for the rights to citizenship. This is the strong dishonor of the international human rights instruments. In this context we have taken seriously the extreme shamefull comment of UNDP regional Director of Asia and Pacific who claimed that the democratization process is complete in South Asia with the establishment of democracy in Bhutan.
    Raju Thapa