Real game of democracy begins now


The Government of Bhutan successfully conducted elections to the local governments on June 27, 2011. A total of 2,185 candidates contested and 1,104 candidates were elected to the offices of Gups, Mangmis, Tshogpas, Thromde Thuemis. Overall voter turnout was recorded at 56 percent.

Democracy was instituted in Bhutan with the promulgation of the Constitution on July 18, 2008. The newly formed Government declared that local government elections would be held immediately. But the “immediately” elections to the local governments took over three years.

One of the objectives of the Druk National Congress was to introduce democracy at the grassroots level, to educate, bring awareness and ingrain in each and every citizen of the country, the policies that affects their lives. My arrest in India in 1997 restricted my “active” involvement in the grassroots democracy education and at the same time presented different priorities for my party colleagues during this period. DNC is satisfied and happy to witness the local government elections.

Prior to the elections, we have raised genuine concerns over the delimitation of the districts for the local government elections. There was an imbalanced distribution of gewogs/gups in the districts, in proportion to their size and population. For example, according to electorate statistics of 2008, Wangdue Phodrang in the west with an electorate population of 14,807 has been delimited for 15 gups/gewogs, while Samtse in the south with an electorate population of 34,958 also has 15 gups/gewogs. Trashigang in the east, with an electorate population of 29,080, has 15 gups as well. We are apprehensive that development activities in larger districts could be handicapped, if funds are allocated to districts based merely on the number of gewogs under it. Our concerns were not heeded; we but expect that the Government will address these concerns in due course of time. The Government must also review the remuneration of local leaders. They shoulder heavy responsibility and remuneration must reflect their responsibilities.

The formation of local governments is one of the important features of democratization.  People at the grass root get to understand their role in a democratic society. Now, people at local level will get to know more closely of Government policies, besides their involvement in the decision making process. In spite of optimism, it could be end up being a red herring. Last three year of “democracy” warns us that decisions and policies are still initiated at top rather than bottom. Majority of the Bhutanese are still unaware of the changes taking place in polity of the country and citizens are still unable to come out of their fear-psychosis shell. To expect an overnight shift in Government policies under the prevailing situation will be naïve. I however hope that the recently elected grassroots leaders will be resolute and firm in their stand in discharging their democratic duties.

The Local Government Act stipulated that candidates must be apolitical. As of now only the elections have concluded. The real challenge lies ahead. The apolitical credentials of local leaders will be put to the test in the 2013 General Elections. There we will have our answer.

Democracy in Bhutan is young. The institutionalization of a vibrant democracy takes time. I hope the people’s whole hearty participation in democracy at the grassroots level will educate and ingrain a democratic culture in our citizens. It is however, sad that a large majority of Bhutanese exiles were not able to participate in the election. We hope it will be different in 2013.

The writer is President of Druk National Congress.


  1. Yes, Mr. Dorji, DNC’s satisfaction and happiness to witness the local government elections is certainly a reflection of your commitment for true democracy in Bhutan. There is no satisfaction among the Bhutanese electorates though, who, after waiting several hours to cast their votes, have to return without exercising their voting franchise, when they were denied from their rights citing various unreasonable pretexts. Why only 56 per cent turned out in the voting is itself a clear message that there was lot of screenings and efforts from the authority to ensure only the selected candidates, who would work in the interest of the regime, win the elections. Bhutanese elections as of now have been nothing but a nicely orchestrated melodrama, where person like you enjoy satisfaction.

    If the Bhutanese democracy deserves even an iota of appreciation and satisfaction, it should first declare amnesty to those who first demanded political rights through peaceful demonstrations and appeals. The royal government should release and rehabilitate all the political prisoners simultaneously when it declares democracy in the country. Democracy without the rights of people’s free and fair participation in the policy making and in the nation building work is nothing but a complete sham.

    I think the political parties, human right organisations and the conscious Bhutanese people; both inside the country and in exile will give a serious thought on Dorji’s statement and come out – how satisfying is the democracy functioning today in Bhutan?

  2. yes, we all are happy to witness the election.but we must know that doing election does not reflects the real democracy.we must learn from Iraq,nepal and others..the autocrats had announced the election as to lie its subjects and international communities.election is one of the many procedures for real democracy. this election is used to hide the truth,the racial discrimination.

  3. Going through RK’s article I am shocked to understand that you are a so-called Sarchokpa veteran, but still living in the late nineteen fifties. If I am not mistaken you are expressing your satisfaction with the election process that came to conclusion at the grass roots lately. Don’t you remember that election system prevailed ever since establishment of our parliament in 1953. It was the same process and same system of voting and nomination. Only the change is candidates are little literate with modern education in most of the gewogs. Electoral machines are used instead of manual voting system. But in most gewogs, we saw unanimous or hand raising also took place. To misguide international community, election commission is there, which was not existent in the past. With the declaration of Gup elections as apolitical, and giving them 22,000 per month as their remuneration, how can one expect to serve to the people’s expectations. The mangmis, who are actually the people’s representative in the gewog tshogpa is paid only 8,000. So much is the difference in their remuneration. Mangmis are made less responsible and less active in terms of their service. Gup is awarded scarf officially and made more important as compared to mangmis. This is totally bogus. This is not democratic but strengthening feudalistic system in more modernized pattern called democracy. It is the kind of reaction of yours that leadership maturity is still far behind. These are the reasons, why Bhutan regime damn care about exiled parties. I support the comments of Monlam Tashi and kishmat sharma.

  4. Going through RK Dorjee’s above article, “Real game of democracy begins now”I smell a rat in a hat. It seems RK Dorjee is preparing to enter Bhutan by appreciating the present form of democray . My question is how could RK give recognition to the present Bhutan government? Has not he gone through last week Kuensel articele where PM Thinley clearly said to his parliamenterains that the present democracy is moving successfully ahead under the wise leadership of fifth Moncrch.After all the king is leading the democracy in Bhutan ,and democracy in Bhutan is akidu to his humble subjects.

  5. Our so called leader is fully satisfied with the artificial democracy system in Bhutan when election turn over is just 56%.From this we the common people should understand how our leaders are leading us.

  6. Dear Mr Dorji,

    What is your stan on the thir country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees from camps to various western countries? Do you feel that repatraition, if taken place, would be same from Nepal and abroad?

    Love to read your articles in future too.


  7. It’s not a question of support and oppose one’s views and opinions.Everyone is different in this world and one should learn to respect the differences.The insane banking system of governance and the beaurocracy is clearly reflected in so-called the modern democracy of Bhutan.AFTERALL IT’S A GIFT OF THE 4TH DRUK GYALP0 THAT CAN BE GIFTABLE ONLY IN BHUTAN.I think it’s waste of time commenting on unnatural democracy existed(maybe) in another planet.

  8. I always thought Bhutan was dictated by JSW, the so-called democracy was initiated by him, the election was brought about by him and the Pm was his own choice…… But it was beyond my knowledge that there was RKD behind all this too!
    If you are happy the way it is proceeding and you expect that things will turn out as you hope, what makes you Mr. RKD going against JSW?……

    This is one of the pooret articles ever written by a so-called leader who claims to be the champion of Bhutanese democracy. sorry.

  9. May be RKD is trying to shift the approach of the advocacy. Appreciation and coming closer will build the relation and also create the environment for healthy discussion. Looking each and every step with suspicious eyes will never bridge us leading to wider separation and inviting further deterioration. I consider this as a bold step provided it helps towards national reconciliation approach.
    Every move that is made is purely a hit and trail one and if its formula works than it’s we who will be privileged.

  10. The wise man should restrain his senses like the crane and accomplish his purpose with due knowledge of his place/environment, time/need and ability. Chanakya Said. So, Let’s Wait and Watch. Changes are law of life.

  11. I am happy that Nilik has a sense of better understanding than others like Durga Giri and DNS Dakal. We inside Bhutan have since long been trying to see to what extent our people suffering in exile as refugees would understand people like RKD. As Tortola says, he is actually6 not shifting the approach of advocacy, but every one must look back into RKD’s past published articles in his Bhutan Today. You will know for yourself.

  12. Few of the points raised by Dasho RK Dorji are genuine for eg.. the number of electorates vs the gups/gewogs.
    Other points are mere commentry which is not enough for a movement to bring changes as a major party in exile. The reconciliatory tone aslo sets premature expectations that the government of Bhutan will welcome them in near future. It also undrmines sacrifice and sufferings of the Bhutanese in exile. However, with the resettlement program going steady, the leaders are looking for mercy from the very perpetrators. I am not sure it is going to work that way.
    Most importantly, Dasho RK Dorji need to push for more positive demonstration of power and resolve based on the Reality. I am by principle against presenting any major issue of discussion in a negative topic. In this case, “The Real Game of Democracy Begins Now”, I am not sure whether the author is accusing the Bhutan government as playing a game with democracy or does he believe that the democracy should be achieved by playing games! I’d rather put the whole thing into right perspective in a positive topic for example, “Democracy in Display begins in Bhutan” if he accepts what is happening in Bhutan is good as it seems he does. Or if wants to critisize, put it under heading for example “Government Dictates Democracy in Bhutan”…something in that line. But For God’s sake do not appreciate the game of democracy nor try to play a game with it.

    For the greater good of the country and its people, a democratic government need to recognize all its citizens as equal and give justice to those who made sacrifices or against whom crime has been committed. Democracy must be based on the foundation of Truth and the history must unfold as it happened through the development of the nation. Otherwise, it becomes a temporary solution of a permanent problem which lies in the injustice committed against its Lhotsampa citizens and concious Sarchps who sided with the right thing to do for the country. Marginalizing the sacrifice and sufferings of these two groups will not be tolerated in the nation if it is truely blessed by Lord Buddha! Sooner or later the Truth will come out, therefore it is better to correct in a timely manner rather than to camauflage and pretend otherwise. I guess it all depends upon the vision of the leaders in control inside Bhutan as the commentry keeps on coming from outside.
    Thank you
    Dick Chhetri

  13. I think ‘Game play’ in English means acting honorably. With the adjective ‘real’ it further intensifies the phrase. So, all in all,the gist of the article I personally get is – Bhutan is bringing about good democracy!

    In this context the author has not understood the meaning of democracy. Is democracy real when over 100 thousands citizens are ethnically cleansed and rendered refugees all over the world? Is this real democracy when a simple christian is persecuted for his belief? Is it democracy when 100 0f children are denied education because they cannot produce the so-called NOC? Is it democracy when fundamental rights like the language, dress etc are not protected…so on and so on….

    DASHO RKD should completely overhaul his knowledge and thinking!!!!

  14. Carry on the good work of slandering as always. It doesn’t really matter what you think democracy in Bhutan is like. The real Bhutanese in Bhutan have embraced it and the World has recognized it. Yes, there may be issues but they will be dealt with, and as far as I know there is no perfect system. As far as Bhutan is concerned, JSW is a great leader & no amount of slandering from anyone or anywhere is going to change that. We all wish the Southern problem of the 90s never happened but it did. Many got what they deserved but unfortunately there were collatoral damages too. But no amount of slandering and acussations will ever reverse that.Can’t people ever think of something more constructive?

  15. For Lotus Flower and Jedah,
    Here is one element of Truth. What slandering are you talking of?

    By Dil Koirala ‘Subedi’ & Hari Koirala
    At some point, unfolding a long-concealed untold story might sound fictitious in nature to some of us, if not all. The fact, however, divulges one that the ‘injustice and truths can never be suppressed forever.’ The destinations of our ‘family air-plane’ have taken several twists-and-turns—obviously it might continue to take the similar pace even in future for the ‘pilot’ has lost his life at no fault.
    Once on a chilly-cold Himalayan winter day at the Bhutan-China border in Haa, our father late Mr. Ichha Ram Koirala, the then Peljab (corporal) of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) had to lead a team of the army personnel to assess the Chinese incursion of Bhutanese land. He met a battalion of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) consisting two hundred men that was stationed right at the border following the Sino-Indian War of 1962. With at least 15 RBA personnel under his command, he managed to initiate a friendly dialogue with the PLA commanders, and returned to the RBA barrack in Haa to inform the top officials about the PLA’s presence and concerns at the border front.
    Acting on the clues, the RBA higher authority immediately deployed a battalion of around 250 soldiers to maintain vigilance over the PLA’s activities at the border. Our late father was one of the soldiers who was then deployed to carry on the vigilance tasks. Fortunately, no any skirmishes occurred between the PLA and the RBA despite the fact that the relationship between India and China were highly stressed during the time.

    Medal offered by third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, to late Ichha Ram for his excellent service. Photo courtesy/Authors.
    Later, our father’s faithfulness and excellence in his duties was honored with the promotion to the eluded position of Dimpon Gom (Warrant Officer). The third king, Jigme Dorjee Wangchuck adorned him with a prestigious medal during the coronation of the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. He was then transferred to the Royal Bhutan Guards (RBG), an elite branch of the armed forces responsible for the security of the King, the Royal family and other VIPs. Thus, he started serving the royal government as a bodyguard of members of the royal family members including the fourth king himself.
    Our father had joined the RBA in 1960, and retired at the age of 45 in 1980. He spent his post-job life as a farmer—involving with the cultivation of food and cash crops such as the orange and cardamom—at the Dhanesay village under Beteni block in Chirang Bhutan.
    As a six year old, I would not know of my father’s service and sacrifice to the king and the country until I pressed my mother to further explain the cause of the fateful day when Captain Chimi Dorjee raided our home. Through the journey of my life in the refugee camps, the memory always haunted me, and I often asked too many questions to my mother until she told me the whole story…an untold story that I want to share to the world.
    It was in the summer in 1990 that our father was coerced to an unknown destination by a group of four men who claimed to be the cadres of Bhutan Peoples’ Party (BPP). We were completely unaware whether he was actually being kidnapped. Our mother, looking deeply traumatized, told us that our father might not return from the BPP camp—as it was a common say that time.
    Having lived in this ‘not-yet-known-location’ for almost 15 days, our father returned home with some ominous tales. He astonished us with his story that he could flee the BPP-run camp in Garganda, India. It was learnt that he was kidnapped probably because he did not heed to the BPP’s demand to get involved in the going-to-be launched mass demonstrations.
    He looked utterly dismayed and perplexed as he planned to get out of the tough situations. The lack of security and chaotic environment was escalating in our village during the time. He hesitantly decided to become a cattle herder, and spend secured life in the forests fostering a herd of cows and buffalos. He planned to switch to this life style to avoid abduction by the BPP activists and possible arrest by the government agents. He took eldest daughter Lila and the son Hari to assist him in goth (cattle herding). His strategy might have been also to protect his grown-up children from possible rape and coercion both from the RBA and BPP sides that was happening in the village.
    In October 1990, the village Karbari (administrator) informed our mother that around 105 RBA-men were preparing to raid our village in order to arrest whoever in the village was suspected to have been sympathizing or supporting the BPP-led democratic movement. Since our father was an ex-military person, soon the soldiers thoroughly raided our house, doubting that he could have been a good advisor for the BPP.
    RBA captain, Chimi Dorjee who led the team, kick-opened the front door of our house, and commanded all of the occupants to step outside. Our mother rushed outside guiding four of her daughters: Hema (8), Dil (6), Pabi (4) and Nara (2) to move along with her. However, our grandmother who was then suffering with immobility due to paralysis got left inside. Captain Chimi was mad at her, thinking she was not paying attention to his command. He pounded upon her body and hit her on head with the butt of the rifle. She at once got unconscious and fell prey to the assault. We still have the fresh memory of our grandma bathing in blood due to hard-hit assault on her fragile body.
    Our mother was utterly nervous and frightened by the situation enveloping our house. Her sincere attempts to rescue our grandmother went on vain. Adding to her fears, Chimi came outside pointing a pistol at her.
    “Where is your husband?”
    She shrugged to show her ignorance about her husband’s whereabouts. She intentionally, as she reveals it now, didn’t want to disclose her husband’s whereabouts as she was aware of the facts that many male members of her village were arrested and severely tortured in the detention center simply for no reasons.
    He then turned towards us……. children between 2 to 8 years old (I was six then) and asked us at the top of his voice.
    “Where is your father?”
    As innocent as we were, we expressed our ignorance in utter fear about father’s whereabouts. He was severely dismayed. He caught me by my throat in his left hand and did the same to my sister Hema with his other hand, lifted us up, held for what seemed to be eternity and threw us to the floor. We cried and begged pardon as we repeatedly pleaded that we truly did not know where our father was. He mocked at our humble pleas for excuse and expressed absolute disbelief. He threatened to punish us further if we continue to cry or keep maintaining our ignorance about his whereabouts. All of us were so engulfed in fear that we thought we were going to die in the cruel hands of Chimi Dorjee who appeared to be more of a monster than a human being. Our mother was in a dilemma whether to disclose her husband’s location, or continue facing the brutalities.

    A copy of the payroll book of late Ichha Ram. Photo Courtesy/Authors.
    Chimi then turned back to our mother and slapped hard on her face. He grabbed her hair and kicked her on chest throwing her down to the floor flat. He then repeatedly kicked her on head, chest, among other parts of the body. Later, when she had just regained consciousness, the soldiers handcuffed her and took her away from home.
    She recalls that they marched her to Dhanesay School, which was then converted into a army barrack and temporary prison. Later our elder sister Lila said she saw mother being dragged by the soldiers while she was on her way home from the goth. She ran away in fear and went back to goth to tell our father.
    The temporarily established prison, according to our mom, was full of male members of our village and she was the only female held captive. She had to not only share room with the male inmates, but also the open “bucket-toilet”. The descriptions of the prison—crowded rooms, unhygienic foods, male inmates crying, the inhumanely practiced different methods of mental and physical tortures, among others, now might sound more like untrue to most of us.
    After hearing the news of mother’s arrest, our father, who turned lip-tight and red, headed straight to the army barrack from the forest and begged them to consider about his job life and service to the royal government of Bhutan for twenty years, shared the pain with the raged army officers, and also assured them that he was not in any way involved in the anti-government movement. To his sheer dismay, however, they arrested him instead and released our mother consequently the same day.
    Even her love towards her husband could not hold mother there any longer; she was terrified and felt helpless. The RBA officials were very rude to the captives, and turned down any pleas for help or consideration. She must have been preoccupied with tension worrying about conditions of children and mother-in-law at home. She came home distressed and confused. When she reached home she was taken aback by disappearance of her jewelry and money, and grandmother’s deteriorating health was an even bigger concern to her.
    Grandma was completely bed-ridden with pain resulting from the army officer’s assault. Her face was badly swollen up, and she was still profusely bleeding from the wound. The mother had too many things to take care of. We, the children were left to helplessly cry and starve when mother was arrested. Our mother acted bold and tried to get over all the messes at home, and restore the normalcy. The situation was very challenging to all of us.

    Late Ichha Ram. Photo Courtesy/Authors.
    It was not only our family that was suffering, but every family in our village was affected one way or other. Indeed, the atmosphere in the entire village was terrorized, at some point we feared death. All the adult male members of our village were either arrested or escaped across the border. Their spouses and other family members shared their feelings in fear that their relatives were arrested without any warrants or justifiable reasons. They were arrested with the vague allegations that they were involved in the BPP programs but they had no freedom of speech to tell the truth.
    The arrestees were released after few months, but a few weeks later all the families were called to a meeting and told to sign a form and then they were instructed to move out of country within the given time frame. They were forced to sign what was called a Voluntary Migration Form (VMF). Our parents said the chief district administrator (Dzongda of Chirang) was himself involved all the time in making the people sign the VMF, and in opting necessary procedure to make eviction a grand success.
    The people were not allowed to question the district administration on anything. They were compelled to do nothing but take the orders and pack up. Our family was not included in the first batch that was processed for the eviction. At one point, at that time we were the only family in the middle of our large village with six small children and a seriously ailing elderly woman at home. By then our father had been incarcerated for about 16 months. Dasho Dzongda (district head) of Chirang informed us time and again that if we wished to leave Bhutan, then we would soon see our father released from the prison.
    Down and depressed, and anger and agony hitting our minds in turns, we left our village with no any idea as to where we would land up, and what our future would be like. Moreover, the fear as to what would happen to our father was always in our mind….whether he would be released was always a question mark. Mother planned the departure with our uncle’s family, and we were to walk two entire days from Dhanesey Bhutan to make it to the Indo-Bhutan border. We bid goodbye to our beloved village. My mother hired two people to carry our ailing grand mother in a Doko (big bamboo basket). Mother made this horrible choice for our family with the mere hope that our father would be released from the prison.
    It was a very wearisome journey to the unknown for all of us. Each one of us carried a bagful of clothes, and parents had some utensils as well. We did not stop on the way for cooking; we just depended upon some dry food that we had stuffed in our bags for the way. The biting sorrow coming from the pain of leaving home and birthplace was already making us feel sick. As everybody was concerned of grand mother’s health, we suddenly discovered that our sister Pabi (4) was left behind in the middle of the forest. We did not know how that happened. We were emotionally paralyzed by the situation. We decided to hurry back the trail in search for her. Luckily, a neighbor that was walking behind us saw her and they were bringing her along carefully.
    We consider ourselves lucky that we made to the border without facing casualties on the way. It was a terrible journey, but the physical stress was not bothering us any more as compared to the emotional, psychological trauma. After we arrived at the Mudhey, a small Indian town at the border, the police helped us reserve a truck to travel to Nepal. We cried and cursed Bhutan government for being unkind to us. We sorrowfully looked at Bhutan as long as we could, as long as the hills were on our sight, then we fell asleep as we disappeared into the world we had never seen before.
    Our father joined us in the camps in Nepal immediately after we had reached there. Soon the first tragedy struck. Our grand mother died unable to cope up with the harsh environment in the refugee camps and unable to recover from the wounds inflicted by the Army Captain Chimi Dorjee. Whenever I remember my grand mother, I curse Chimi Dorjee for his inhumane acts towards our grand mother, and for all the bad things he did to us.
    Later, it was learnt that our father was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although he was undergoing medication for the PTSD at the Center for Victims of Torture (CIVICT)- Nepal, he was psychologically too weak and traumatized due to inhuman torture in Bhutanese jail and the situations that followed including the loss of his life long properties, his service, honor and dignity. Eventually, he ended up taking his own life in 2007 at the Beldangi-II refugee camp.
    We now only wish that many of such Ichha Ram (s), if he were alive until today, would have made significant differences for the regime who tortured, killed, or paralyzed them physically and mentally due to their potentialities—that now would certainly explore the government’s brutalities more evidently and hold them responsible for the crime committed against its own citizens.
    Though the physical absence of our ‘family airplane’s pilot, is mentally and emotionally felt throughout our lives (more to our mom), it does not mean the call for true democracy in Bhutan ended-up along with his life worth mentioning thousand times to show the true colors of Bhutanese government.
    Some aspects/analysis in the piece are touched-base on the real story narrated by our mother Dikura Koirala.

    (The authors-brother and sister by relation- are the Bhutanese first year under graduate students at the Georgia Perimeter College. Opinion or facts & figures reflected in the piece are writers’ own, not of BNS)

  16. Dear Mr. Dorji,

    I congratulate your courage. You truly are nationalist.

    Don’t give a damn to views of non-nationals and anti-national.

    They just want to provoke you.

    Keep up the spirit of Palden Drukpa.


  17. @DB Chettri, you know what slandering I’m talking about. I read the story by koiralas from their original post & they have honestly & clearly mentioned that only ‘some’ aspect of the story is based on what their mother narrated which obviously they have no reason to doubt. Besides as I understand BPP brought the misfortune on Icharam & his family. Assuming that it is true, I can empathize with the authors. However, this has nothing to do with how democracy is in Bhutan today.

  18. Dick Bahadur Chetri’s version published above bears much truth in what BPP activists did to their family. I whole heartedly empathise the misfortune they had to undergo in the hands of those BPP people, who are also equally responsible for the refugee making. Regarding your statement about the promotion and medal awarding by the 3rd king at the time of 4th king’s coronation, I oppose your statement and suggest you for correction. 3rd king died in 1972 and there is no reason for his presence in person in 1974 (coronation of the 4th king). Probably it is the exaggeration of common badge on copper plate made for public distribution during 4th king’s coronation. That medal bears the portrait of the 4th king. However, I also feel pity on Chimi Dorji’s action to your family. These are the reasons why we should not seek for a change of equality, democracy and human rights in Bhutan. We must all work to carry on with the legacy of movement for a change in our country. Let us say Victory to our people who are undergoing the suffering! All the best to every one of us in the struggle.