While some might argue that 10 years is too short a time to assess the merits and blessings of democracy in Bhutan, others find reasons to disagree. Looking from the development perspective, a decade is an awfully long time. The National Human Development Report (NHDR) that was launched early this week is an important document which brings Bhutan’s journey with democracy and experiences into sharp focus.
There are things in the report for us to savour and relish all right. It is critically important, however, to remind ourselves that it is a folly to bask in the reflected glory. As Bhutan prepares to graduate to a lower-middle-income country, there is a need to look at how democratic governance should propel socioeconomic growth. That means recognising our shortfalls and forging ahead with clear vision.
The many elections we have had since Bhutan became a democratic constitutional monarchy have taught that democracy can be a painful experience that often does not find clear and loud expression in the human development reports and the like. Short-term electoral promises of the politician do not contribute towards development of long-term national visions and goals. But reports give us some idea of how far we have come and where we must aim to reach. The NHDR in this respect deserves our utmost attention. It calls upon us to pause and do a serious soul-searching.
Several recommendations have been made in the report to be considered like the need to give greater focus on training media professionals, revise rural taxes, waive university degree qualification requirement for politicians, strong monitoring of political party expenditure and source of funding, removing voting ban on lay monks and nuns and lifting the restriction on gatherings during elections, among others. Some of the recommendations might not even make sense in our cultural context, but they are worth giving a second thought. Developments bring generational demands on us and there are certainly a lot of grounds to gain.
Whether or not what the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Achim Steiner, said about the report in hand painting the true picture of Bhutan’s human development, our next report, like he said, should provide us a robust picture of human development in Bhutan measured by people’s satisfaction with the government and freedom of expression.