Bhutan’s journey as a young democracy is marked by the emergence of Constitutional bodies that are integral to its democratic fabric. These institutions, enshrined in the Bhutanese Constitution, were conceived to uphold the principles of the rule of law, due process, adherence to constitutional values, and freedom of the media. However, recent events have ignited a public call for greater accountability within these foundational pillars of our democracy.

The Constitution of Bhutan, painstakingly crafted over seven years under the direct command of His Majesty the Fourth King, represents a unique blend of global democratic ideals infused with Bhutanese values. It was designed with the foresight of potential democratic challenges and therefore integrated essential checks and balances. Constitutional Offices, endowed with privileges, respect and significant responsibilities, were established to operate independently, free from undue political interference. Yet, our democracy stands at an inflection point, as scrutiny intensifies.

The judiciary is grappling with budgetary constraints that hinder its ability to fulfil its constitutional mandate, aggravated by the abrupt termination of two justices executed without the due process of impeachment. This raises serious questions about the judiciary’s independence and its ability to safeguard our constitutional framework. Recent reports on enforcement of court decisions and the rejoinder from the Supreme Court have further dimmed the spotlight on transparency and accountability.

The Royal Civil Service is grappling with the alarming attrition rate among civil servants, driven by concerns related to due process during the managed out process, which is rippling into the corporate and private sectors. The controversial “bell curve” system, intended to address issues of fairness, now breeds controversy and confusion, with appeals and allegations casting shadows on the process. The future of the civil service, integral to our nation’s governance, is not looking good at present.

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) plays a pivotal role in ensuring free and fair elections. However, recent decisions authorising an unknown committee to evaluate political manifestos risk eroding the essence of democratic choice. This shifts decision-making power from informed voters to a committee, possibly legitimising political parties reneging on promises because they can justify the promises that were not in their manifesto. Political manifestos should remain the menu from which voters make their selection because democracy means by the people and for the people.

The media, as the fourth estate, finds itself facing growing barriers. This trend not only compromises transparency but also raises concerns about stifling the media’s role in holding these institutions accountable.

These challenges, while disheartening, do not align with the vision of our monarchs. Our monarchs’ enduring commitment to decentralisation, democratic values and structures, including the right to cast a vote of no confidence against the throne, serves as a testament to the foundation of true democratic principles.

Recent developments have the potential to dismantle this vision and erode the rule of law and accountability. Adherence to constitutional values and principles is non-negotiable. Missteps in these formative years could have enduring consequences, shaping the trajectory of Bhutan’s democracy for generations to come.

As His Majesty’s reminded that as we stand at this inflection point, our institutions must operate within constitutional boundaries and in the spirit of the Constitution is our guiding light. By ensuring these Constitutional Offices fulfill their intended roles, we protect the future of Bhutan’s democracy and honour the legacy of our visionary monarchs as it is the path to safeguarding the foundations of this young democracy.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.