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Bhutan’s History, Geography, Politics, and Economy Essay


Introduction

Situated between China and India in the Eastern parts of the Himalayas in South Asia, the Bhutan Kingdom provides a political system worth studying owing to its uniqueness. Bhutan is a landlocked country that for centuries has upheld its traditional systems thus cutting itself off from the values of the outside world especially concerning its culture and politics. Specifically, the Wangchuck monarchy that approached a hereditary system since 1907 before it was replaced by the two-party legislature government system in 2008 portrays how the landlocked country managed its political system.

Politically, Bhutan has undergone numerous changes in the past to be where it is in contemporary times. The political system has evolved from a monarchical form of governance to democracy, which is gaining popularity around the country. One of the outstanding aspects of Bhutan is the use of society’s happiness as a way of measuring well-being. This report seeks to provide a report on Bhutan’s historical overview, its geography and democracy, and the political systems and leaders of the country. Additionally, this paper would include the economic structure and development before addressing domestic and foreign policy issues regarding the Bhutan Kingdom.

Historical Overview

The historical background about Bhutan can be traced from the 2000 BC period when the migration of the Monpa from Tibet took place. However, Drakpa affirms that substantial records regarding the second Buddha, Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche during the 7th Century provides reliable information regarding the political structures of the Kingdom (par. 3). Rinpoche established various monasteries during his reign to underscore the relevance of Buddhism as a religion that would guide their way of living. It was during the 7th Century period when Buddhism was introduced in the country as a religion. In the 1616 CE period, the arrival of the Tibetan Lama fostered the introduction of the dual system of secular and religious government that is still practiced up to date in Bhutan (Drakpa par. 5).

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal provided political leadership that sought to unite the people until his demise in 1651 after which civil wars erupted leading to religious and political bitterness. In the course of the battling period, various governors assumed power and authority calling for the need for unity instead of the wars that occurred for a lengthy period. According to Gallenkamp, the stability of the country was realized in 1907 after the chiefs and lamas chose Ugyen Wangchuck unanimously as the first king of Bhutan (4).

The Wangechuk’s dynasty adopted Namgyal’s strategy of unifying the people thus fostering the harmonious coexistence of its population up to date. The political stability of the monarch was influenced by the reorganization of the structures through the help of the British government after signing the Treaty of Punakha in 1910.

In 1865, Britain and Bhutan marked the Treaty of Sinchulu, under which Bhutan would get a yearly appropriation in return for surrendering some outskirt area to British India. Under British guidance, a government was set up in 1907 and after three years, a bargain was marked whereby the British concurred not to meddle in Bhutanese interior issues, and Bhutan permitted Britain to direct its outside undertakings. This part was accepted by autonomous India after 1947. After two years, a formal Indo-Bhutanese accord came back to Bhutan the zones added by the British, formalized the yearly appropriations the nation got and characterized India’s obligations in safeguard and remote relations (Gallenkamp 2-4).

1953 saw the establishment of the National Assembly that constituted of 130 members through the efforts of King Wangchuck. The establishment of the Royal Advisory Council and the Cabinet in 1965 and 1965 respectively provided the ground for the kingdom’s membership to the United Nations that occurred in 1971. This move ensured that Bhutan could raise its concerns through the UN’s conventions that aim at discussing the pressing issues of individual member states. The coronation of Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1974 following the demise of his father brought new leadership that emphasized the essence of preserving the traditional culture that depicted the uniqueness of the people of Bhutan (Gallenkamp 5).

From 1998 through early 2000, political reforms characterized the political heat in the Bhutan Kingdom where there was a shift from absolute monarchy to democracy was which was preferred. The reforms gained substance in 2005 when a draft constitution with the primary objective of moving from the absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy (Gallenkamp 3-6). The goal was successfully realized in 2008 through the new constitution, the Tsa Trim Chhenmo. Two chambers that characterize the legislature under one king constitute the current political system in Bhutan (Drakpa 39).

Geography and Demography

The Bhutan Kingdom that is situated in a land-locked country lies in an area of 46,500 Km2. Another relatively country in the region in Nepal that covers an area of 147,181 Km2 (“Central Intelligence Agency” par. 2). The following map depicts Bhutan’s geography and demography.

The Geography and Demography of Bhutan.
Fig. 1. The Geography and Demography of Bhutan.

Besides the mountainous landscape, the country has some fertile valleys and savanna. The climate of the Bhutan Kingdom varies as the Himalayas area experiences cool summers and severe winters while the central valleys are characterized by hot summers and cool winters that are different from the tropical climate in the southern plains. The capital of Bhutan, Thimpu is centrally located records an average high of 25°C (77°F) in August and a low of -2.6°C (7°F) in January. The country’s natural resources include timber, gypsum, hydropower, and calcium carbonate. 85% of the country is covered by forest while 13% of it is agriculturally in use. The current issues surrounding the kingdom’s environment include accessibility to potable water and soil erosion.

Political System and Leaders

Bhutan’s political systems development traces its roots from ancient times. The ancient political systems integrated political leadership with Buddhism thus depicting the essence of religion in their leadership. A dual theocratic system existed whereby the administration of the religious institutions was granted to the Head Abbot (Je Khenpo) while the civil aspect was under the jurisdiction of a high officer (truck desi).

The political unrest experienced during the 18th and 19th Centuries diminished the authority of the senior officers as the authority of the governors rose. However, the efforts of Ugyen Wangchuck, who supported the Britain Penlop against the ambitions of the Tibet, showed his continued interest in promoting peace in the region that was stricken by rebellions and civil wars between 1882 and 1885. Thus, Wangchuk’s efforts towards uniting the people triggered a build-up of confidence from the local leaders who unanimously agreed to appoint him as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan in a ceremony that was conducted at Punakha, the ancient capital of the kingdom.

The appointment of Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary king of Bhutan in 1907 provided ground for the adoption of a monarchical political system that was not based on the previous theocratic system (Gallenkamp 3).

Limited monarchy in Bhutan gained popularity in 1969 despite the lack of a constitution for over three decades. The regime of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, between 1952 and 1972, brought about reforms to the political systems to modernize it. Therefore, the changes experienced during this period are relevant since they depict the foundations directed at the realization of a democratic political system that favors fair political representation and participation of the stakeholders in matters of public interest. The strategies paved the way for his son, the current ruler, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.

Before the adoption of constitutional monarchy, political parties were outlawed in Bhutan, which only recognized an opposition party, the Bhutan State Congress. In this case, the banning of opposition political parties illustrates the unfairness in the early political system practiced in Bhutan since the ruling party did not provide room for other parties to question its performance in delivering sustainable development to the people.

Furthermore, the opposition party was headquartered in India, and it represented the minority group, the Nepalese. Managing the activities of the party from a foreign country portrays the height of discriminative monarchy that existed in Bhutan before it later adopted the constitutional monarchy system of governance. Additionally, the country is split into 18 districts (dzongkhag) under the management of a district officer through the appointment of the king.

Elections in the country were held every three years whereby each family equals a single vote. Moreover, the electoral system in Bhutan was not reasonable enough by equating one vote to a particular family since the members could be having different choices concerning the preferred political leader. In this light, the system infringed on the democratic rights of the individual citizens by generalizing that all family members sang the same political song.

In July 2008, the government of Bhutan adopted a constitutional monarchy system that saw the political structures disregard the absolute monarchy that was practiced between 1907 and the late 1950s. The year marked a major structural change in Bhutan’s political system through the adoption of a system that is based on constitutional stipulations. Under the 2008 constitution, the role of the king of Bhutan seeks to continue with the transformation of Bhutan’s political systems through a leadership culture that effectively serves the interests of the citizens. Further, the king ought to open up the small country to the outside world for cultivating growth and development.

Currently, the arms of government in the Bhutan Kingdom comprise the executive, judicial, and legislature. The prime minister and the cabinet form the executive branch. The National Assembly and the National Council representing the lower and upper houses respectively form the bicameral Legislative organ of Bhutan’s political system. The National Assembly comprises of 47 members who were elected in the 2008 popular elections. However, the people of Bhutan have continually criticized the royal family, the House of Wangchuck, for taking almost all of the political positions thereby undermining the spirit of democratization (Drakpa 54).

The composition of the judicial feature is made up of the local area arbitration, the District Courts, and the High Court. The Judicial system is similar to the Napoleonic legal system whereby the criminal justice approach entails appearance before a panel of judges. The High Court comprises of eight members who perform the judicial functions with the king handling the appeal cases.

The prohibition on political parties was lifted in 2007 after a royal edict was issued in preparation for the National Assembly elections that would follow in 2008. The proclamation was followed by the adoption of the modern constitution in 2008 that upheld the vitality of a democratic system of government.

Economic Structure and Development

The economy of Bhutan is quite small and relatively developed. The foundations of the economy are mainly concentrated on hydropower, forestry, and agriculture that facilitate the sustainability of at least half of the population. Since the rugged terrain is dominant in most parts of the country, the construction of roads and other forms of infrastructure is difficult and costly. Regarding industrial activity, the country mainly focuses on the cottage sector. The Bhutan economy has maintained strong ties with India, who are a major contributor to the development of its economy through financial assistance and as a source of skilled labor required in road construction and other developmental projects.

In 2014, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $1.821 billion that depicted a 6.3% growth compared to the previous financial year (“World Bank” par. 1). The per capita income was projected at $7,600 in 2014 while the national saving from the GDP stood at an estimated 22% implying that each individual was significantly contributing to the sustainable growth of the Bhutan economy. The key sectors that include agriculture, industry, and services accounted for 14.4%, 41.6%, and 44% of the GDP in 2014.

The budgetary allocations for the economy’s revenues and expenditure were at $407.1 million. However, Bhutan’s budget is small compared to economies like India whose budget for the same financial year was projected at $1.25billion. Agriculture in the country sector mainly focuses on the production of corn, rice, root crops, eggs, and dairy products. The industrial sector concentrates on cement production, food processing, tourism, alcoholic beverages, and calcium carbide production (“Central Intelligence Agency” par. 3).

The country has a significant problem in the workforce aspects of its economy since it an estimated labor force of 345,800 individuals. However, the unemployment rate in the country was at 3.2% in 2014 (“Central Intelligence Agency” par. 6). In this light, the low number of Bhutan’s workforce subjects the country to slow economic growth despite engaging almost all the willing and able individuals in active economic activities as portrayed by the country’s current unemployment rate.

Social, environmental, and educational programs are mainly executed by multilateral organizations that must observe the government’s desire towards the protection of the country’s culture and the environment. A good instance is whereby the government initiated a program environmental conscious.

Complex industrial provisions have deterred the country’s economic growth since foreign investors face challenges in securing a trading license and outsourcing labor and financial issues. Therefore, the rigid industrial provisions have undermined an increase in Bhutan’s foreign direct investment thereby slowing its economic growth concerning both local and international trade. However, the country could attain sustainable development if it continues with its developmental projects especially on hydropower generation and export to India (“Central Intelligence Agency” par. 9).

Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

The Bhutan government has implemented several national policies that seek to safeguard the country’s national interests. Specifically, the government of Bhutan developed the Gross National Happiness (GNH) to enhance the improvement of the people’s well-being. Interestingly, the country “measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not the GDP” (Kelly par. 1). The model for evaluating Bhutan’s GNH focuses on the attainment of socio-economic development through sustainable and equitable approaches. In this case, sectors like education and agriculture Bhutan would ensure that the literacy levels and economic gains are bolstered through approaches that uphold equity and sustainability.

Further, Bhutan’s GNH is depicted through its emphasis on environmental conservation that in-turn fosters sustainability. Gauging the GNH also looks at the degree to which the people endeavor in the promotion and preservation of its rich culture (Harris par. 10). For instance, the Bhutan people uphold their religion, Buddhism, in their daily undertakings and are willing to transfer it to other individuals from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, the good governance manifested by the political system determines Bhutan’s GNH. To some extent, Bhutan citizens have expressed their unhappiness regarding the royal family member’s appointment to the top political positions in a biased manner (Kelly par. 1).

The health sector is very vital to Bhutan’s economy hence the need for the formulation and execution of the National Health Policy in 2011 to address various health concerns. The policy sought to address issues of the rising cost of health care, the changing lifestyle of the people, and the unceasingly increasing health needs of the citizens. Despite the several hindrances, the government of Bhutan uses the National Health Policy to bolster its drive towards the attainment of national and international health goals in a manner that values social justice and equity (Harris par. 10).

Bhutan came up with a policy to streamline gender, environment, climate change, and disaster and poverty (GECDP). In this respect, the GECDP supports the move towards the attainment of GNH in various ways. The policy ensures that both genders are equally represented in the various sectors of the economy. Besides, the environmental and climatic aspects of the policy ensure that Bhutan endeavors in sustainable programs that secure a prosperous future.

Additionally, the poverty eradication policies seek to attain not only an impressive GDP growth but also the GNH. The GECDP policies have specifically been aiming at fostering development across all the sectors of the economy. GECDP mainstreaming has been given an extraordinary center and consideration, inside of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan for the general improvement target of achieving Self-dependence and Inclusive Green Socio-monetary Development. Inside of this improvement point, the fuse of the inclusiveness and coordination of comprehensive advancement components are guaranteed by requiring all the new improvement strategies of all advancement segments to take after the Government’s Convention for Policy Formulation.

Foreign policy is a tool that upholds the national goals, aspirations, and interests of a country. The foreign policy is usually structured in a way that it survives the ever-changing aspect of international relations. In this light, before the formulation of policies, governments predict the probable unforeseen events like political unrest and hazardous economic waves before strategizing on implementation. Bhutan ventured into the way of modernization and development after 1950. Bhutan’s foreign policy sought closely intact relations with India. The 1949 arrangement focused on the country’s primary reliance on India in a monetary and political matter. In this light, India has been instrumental in Bhutan’s development since it has significantly contributed to the country’s infrastructural growth and development.

Additionally, Bhutan’s foreign policy focuses on the unlimited stream of unceasing assets, merchandise, workforce, and material that likewise affect the socio-cultural ethos of the kingdom. For instance, the kingdom has maintained close ties with India and other countries for trade and tourism as part of its foreign policy strategies. Furthermore, Bhutan maintains diplomatic relations with Kuwait, Bangladesh, and Thailand besides non-residential engagements with fourteen other countries.

Recently, Bhutan has maintained close links with Scandinavia, Japan, Norway, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, and Switzerland to steer the country towards the modernization of its economy. This move has seen Bhutan embrace globalization, which has gained popularity in the 21st Century.

Conclusion

Bhutan, which is a tiny country in the South East region of Asia, provides an array of political, social, and economic uniqueness worth analyzing and evaluating. Notably, the rich history regarding its political approach that was primarily based on a theocratic system depicts the political journey that their kingdom has endeavored. The mountainous terrain of the country typifies the country’s general geographical and demographic aspects. The economy of Bhutan primarily centers on energy generation, agriculture, and forestry. The domestic and foreign policies in Bhutan are based on the Gross National Happiness (GNH). The kingdom has maintained close relationships with India for labor, financial assistance, and infrastructure development.

Works Cited

. 2015. Web.

Drakpa, Ngawang. Royal Coronations: Windows upon Historical Transition in Bhutan, 1907-2008. (2013). Web.

Gallenkamp, Marian. Democracy in Bhutan. 2011. Web.

Harris, Gardiner. “The New York Times. 2013. Web.

Kelly, Annie. “The Guardian. 2012. Web.

World Bank: Bhutan 2015. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, August 20). Bhutan's History, Geography, Politics, and Economy. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/bhutans-history-geography-politics-and-economy/

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"Bhutan's History, Geography, Politics, and Economy." IvyPanda, 20 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/bhutans-history-geography-politics-and-economy/.

1. IvyPanda. "Bhutan's History, Geography, Politics, and Economy." August 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bhutans-history-geography-politics-and-economy/.


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IvyPanda. "Bhutan's History, Geography, Politics, and Economy." August 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bhutans-history-geography-politics-and-economy/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Bhutan's History, Geography, Politics, and Economy." August 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bhutans-history-geography-politics-and-economy/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Bhutan's History, Geography, Politics, and Economy'. 20 August.

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