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