From Joanna Slater at the Washington Post is this excellent piece about emerging democracy in Bhutan:
A small Himalayan nation wedged between India and China, Bhutan is famed for its isolated location, its stunning scenery and its devotion to the principle of “Gross National Happiness,” which seeks to balance economic growth with other forms of contentment.
Now Bhutan’s young democracy, only a decade old, just received a heady dose of the unhappiness that comes with electoral politics. In the months leading up to Thursday’s national elections, the first in five years, politicians traded insults and made extravagant promises. Social media networks lit up with unproved allegations and fearmongering about Bhutan’s role in the world.
It is enough to make some voters express a longing for the previous system — absolute monarchy under a beloved king. “I would love to go back,” said Karma Tenzin, 58, sitting in his apartment in the picturesque capital, Thimphu. “We would be more than happy.”
The way elections are structured here is atypical, too. Buddhist monks, nuns and other clergy are not allowed to vote, on the logic that they should remain outside politics. No campaigning is allowed after 6 p.m. And candidates found “defaming” their opponents or straying into certain sensitive topics — such as Bhutan’s oppressively close relationship with India — face fines or reprimands.
Fines have been levied for describing political opponents as “anti-national” and “all talk and no substance”. This is such a stark contrast in tone and expectations from election campaigns in both India and USA that it almost seems quaint and anachronistic. Here’s to Bhutan maintaining its peacefulness and innocence as its democracy matures.
Bhutan went to the polls for its third parliamentary elections on 18 October, the day that the Washington Post piece was published.
(Well, perhaps democracy can also broach the topic of the expulsion, deportation, ethnic cleansing of its Nepali-origin citizens. Can’t imagine that having a good bearing on the Gross National Happiness.)