Nepal and Bhutan: Tales of two transitions

Three days apart, one Himalayan kingdom practiced to move towards democracy, another Himalayan kingdom celebrated the anniversary of the king’s power incise amidst an escalating security situation where the masses continue to demonstrate for a republic. The story is of Bhutan and Nepal.

On April 21, Bhutan observed the first but mock election to prepare the people for democracy and the election process, which the country hopes to start next year. On April 24, Nepal observed the first anniversary of the Loktantra, where communist led demonstrations dominated the celebrations.

In a mass meeting at the heart of the capital city Kathmandu, the minister of a party sympathetic to the King was heckled by the audience forcing him to end his statement with one sentence to say they would declare Nepal a republic from the first sitting of the constituent assembly.

While the minister was taking constituent assembly as the place through which Nepal would start its republican age, there are no signs ahead for holding the election to constituent assembly and leaders of the eight parties still linger around without being able to set the new date.

Both these kingdoms are in a transitional period (to mention here, government formed after the popular uprising last year in Nepal decided to rename the country as ‘State of Nepal’ and not as ‘Kingdom of Nepal’ as in the earlier constitution). The transition is for strengthening democracy in both the countries. The transition in Nepal was fueled by mass demonstrations last year while the transition of Bhutan was by fear of a similar outburst against the monarchy. The mass uprising in Nepal has its foundation on the decade long communist movement led by the Maoists. The democratic reforms in Bhutan were announced in the same year communist thinkers in Bhutan began to come together. By the time Bhutanese communists announced their party, Bhutan invigorated its path towards democratization.

In Nepal, the King is being fanned out. Demonstrations for a republic continue to rock the capital and most parts of the country. The country might have become a republic if leaders had not stopped their mass movement last year on April 24 where Nepali Congress led seven parties agreed for ceremonial kingship. Though the second largest party of the movement UML had decided to go for republic, it was compelled to accept the Congress led agreement with the palace without which the mass movement would have gone nowhere.

In Bhutan, the king is becoming stronger and more powerful. The Bhutanese media, except the, highlight the popularity of the king expanding in the Bhutanese society. King himself tours through the country to teach people about democracy and use of adult franchise. In Nepal, travel by king is looked by suspicions. His attempt to receive salute from the Nepali Army personnel during a ritual offerings at the outskirts of the Kathmandu city, received unexpected denial from experts, leaders and the civics.

The republic agenda has become the center of debate now. UML and the Maoist top leaders have recently agreed to co-work on formation of republican front for one purpose: eradicating monarchy from Nepal. However, these two parties rarely see eye to eye in matters of co-work despite being both communists. Pointing fingers at each other for being extremists or royalists has become the major issue of tussle and this has adequately benefited the Nepali Congress and other socialists.

In his transitional period, tussle between these two large communist parties has been used by the Nepali Congress as the tool to afoot its plan for securing place for ceremonial monarchy in Nepal. However, as the most powerful PM Koirala, according to interim constitution, is getting more dictatorial refusing to attend programmes organised by communist groups and meeting of the eight parties of late, the Leftists are getting closer for a joint front in favour of republic. General perception is growing of him becoming dictatorial in taking important decision though the coalition government, which mostly takes decision as he wishes, fails to maintain law and order and address the demands raised by a number of ethnic and regional bodies.

In Bhutan, the co-work is getting better. Political parties, which are established by relatives and friends of the king, are getting established with announced intentions to support the king’s roadmap for democracy. However, the credibility received from the people and the international community though India’s recommendation, the democratic process in Bhutan would further strengthen the king’s hold in national politics.

In Nepal there is opposition within the country and fighting for a share in politics while in Bhutan the opposition are already kicked out of the country. Seeking a share was anti-nationalism and against the national interest in Bhutan. This issue in Nepal means effort is made to achieve massive social transformation and strengthening of the democratic process.

The story of transition goes together. Lets see who will win the race!

I. P. Adhikari is a Bhutanese journalist who writes about Bhutan and Nepal, and is a member of the Association of Press Freedom Activists-Bhutan. He founded Bhutan News Service. A former Bhutanese refugee, he was forced to leave Bhutan with his family in 1992.
in 2001, he started The Shangrila Sandesh, and in 2004 he and Vidhyapati Mishra started the Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) Bhutan. In 2007 they started Bhutan News Service. He worked in The Rising Nepal, The Himalayan Times, Nation Weekly and while living in Nepal as refugee.

Adhikari moved to Adelaide, South Australia under the resettlement program of the UNHCR for Bhutanese Refugees. There, he founded Yuba Sansar, a weekly Nepali-language radio program on Radio Adelaide.