Taste of Democracy in Bhutan Is Not for 108,000 Refugees
By Nava Thakuria
On Jan. 1, 2008, Bhutan, a kingdom of nearly 700,000 people, got its first elected National Council. When Pakistan, Burma and Nepal are bleeding on their ways to achieve a democratic regime in their countries, the 'Shangri-la' has shown a different picture, where a monarch comes out for a democratic set up in his kingdom. The initiative is depicted as a path-breaking attempt for the Buddhist kingdom to transform Bhutan from a hundred years old absolute monarchy to a multi-party democracy. But the challenges of the new democratic regime in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, will lie in dealing with various national concerns, more precisely resolving the Bhutanese refugee issue that is haunting the government for the last 17 years, even though many western countries including the US had stepped in to support those Nepali speaking refugees.The Bhutanese refugees (mostly Nepali-speaking) are taking shelter in western Nepal and still craving to go back to their native villages in Bhutan. They were driven out after they protested the passage of a law in the 1980s that arbitrarily cancelled their citizenship. As many as a sixth of the Bhutanese population, most of them living in the south of the country, fled Bhutan in 1990. They have been living in refugee camps in Nepal since then.The Nepal government raised the issue with Bhutanese authorities in 15 rounds of unsuccessful and un-conclusive diplomatic-talks. Not a single refugee has returned to Bhutan so far. India, being the friendliest neighbour and biggest aid donor to Bhutan, has kept out of the dispute, arguing that it was a bilateral matter between Nepal and Bhutan.The landlocked kingdom of Bhutan, surrounded by Tibet (now under Chinese territory) and Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, went for its first polls on 31 December 2007 to form the upper house of Parliament. The chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi called a successful attempt to transform their kingdom to a democracy. Unlike India, there were no election posters or noisy public rallies in the constituencies before the election. The security was a major concern for the kingdom during the polls. The Bhutan government sealed the border with India for 36 hours to prevent unwanted elements from outside. The Electronic Voting Machines, supported by India, were used in the poll process and observers from India, the US and few other countries including a team of UNDP (based in Thimphu) monitored the election.Currently there are two political parties in the fray. The People's Democratic Party, headed by the former agriculture minister, Sangay Ngedup, and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, led by the former home minister, Jigmi Y Thinley.Significant enough, the offer of transformation from monarchy to democracy came form the Dragon King Jigme Singye Wangchuk himself and that too not because of any popular uprising. After the general election paves way for an elected Prime Minister (with a council of ministers) in 2008, the Bhutan king would become the ceremonial head of state, where the parliament will possess the power to impeach even the king by the support of two-thirds majority in the Assembly."But the new Druk democracy will find it difficult to resolve the 100,000 Bhutanese refugees issue, who have been denied access to the poll process," argued a Thimphu based journalist. Even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres admitted that 'it was difficult to see any immediate solution' to the Bhutanese refugee issue. The UNHCR Representative in Nepal said that 'UNHCR prefers to help refugees go back to their home countries when they can do so in safety and dignity, however, in this case, the only option currently available is that for resettlement in a third country for those refugees who wish to make this choice.'Meanwhile, the US government has shown interest to resettle approximately 60,000 refugees from the camps. Similarly, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway have also come forward expressing their wish to take a share of refugees for resettlement.Suhas Chakma, the Director of the Asian Human Rights Centre, stressed that the international community must be mindful of the implications of any resettlement process without any written commitment from Bhutan. It would be tantamount to supporting ethnic cleansing policies by the Bhutan government. He warned that if Bhutan can get away with 108,000 refugees, the situation of the remaining ethnic Nepalis in southern Bhutan could be untenable as they might also be forced to renounce their citizenship or leave Bhutan.Kuldeep Nayar, a senior Indian journalist expressed his concern over the apathy towards the Bhutanese refugees. He had a word for the King of Bhutan: 'he is really taking honest steps for a democratic system in Bhutan, he should call all those citizens of Bhutan who are staying in refugee camps since last 17 years, back to the country before the scheduled election in 2008.'In a time, when the international communities are crying against the tyrannical rule under the present regimes in Burma, Pakistan and the pro-democratic activists have stepped up their voices in Thailand, Nepal, Tibet and also in Bangladesh, the development in Bhutan came as a positive reassurance for various democratic organizations and political analysts of the globe.Nava Thakuria is a senior journalist based in Assam, India
|Holding their credential in their hands, Bhutanese people wait in a queue to cast their vote at a polling station in Deothang, about 500 kilometers southeast of Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. Thousands of Bhutanese went to the polls Monday to elect a National Council, the final stage before democratic elections that will end nearly 100 years of absolute monarchy in the secluded Himalayan country. Photo Courtesy of AP|
Cries Mounted for Reviving Nabin Chandra ...
Scam, Media Outburst and Its Aftermath
Amidst Chinese Threat Dalai Lama Concludes ...
Asserting Media Person’s Rights in India
China’s Myanmar Bonanza Sans Responsibility
Manufacturing Misguided Protests in Assam
Assam Forum Bats for Work Permits to ...
Bhupen-da Came alive with Dhola-Sadiya Bridge ...
Remembering My Principal Sir!
Saluting Tricolour to Defy Militants’ Diktat ...
Underlining India’s Productive Engagement in ...
Young Journalist Killed in India, ...
Unpaid Media Employees of Northeast India
Journalist Body Urges Political Parties to ...
Saving the Tigers from Extinction
Glorious Tribute to Bhupenda
Burmese Students Term New Government Bogus
Burma Turns Hostile to Indian Separatist Groups
Northeast India Rediscovers Tricolour
Indian People’s Win Inspires Burmese Activists
Nobel Support for a Noble Cause
Activists Condemn India’s Arm Deal with Burma
Protest Note from Guwahati Press Club
Journalists’ Killings: Justice Eludes in ...
Games Gogoi Played In Assam Polls
Remembering Parag: Assam’s Way
Helicopter Missing from Northeast Indian Sky
Allegations Poured on Indian Premier
Allegations Fired at Indian Premier
Rising Resentment against Corruption in India
Satellite News Channel Launched in Northeast ...
Looking at Burma's Forthcoming General ...
Burma Election, Refugees and Media’s Role
When British Newspaper Tenders Apology to ...
TST Contributor Honored with Excellence Award
Burning Rhino Horns: Creating Controversy
Condemning Military Election in Burma
Protest against Military Election in Burma
Burmese Demonstrates Anger against Junta
Assam: A Pretending Warrior and Peace ...
South-eastern Bangladesh Erupts in Violence
Grim Picture of Human Rights in India
Burma on Radar as New Delhi Prepares
Assam: Where People Defy Militant's Diktat
Bangladesh Readies to Hang Bangabandhu Killers
International Film Festival Begins in Guwahati
RK Pachauri under Attack from British Media
Selling News Space Culture in India: Concerns ...
Asian MPs Insist on a Free & Fair 2010 Burma ...
Guwahati Festival to Highlight Terrorism
Assam: Brutal Armed Group, Incompetent ...
Without Suu Kyi, 2010 Polls Have No Meaning
Beijing Eyes Northeast India !
Bumpy Road to Copenhagen
Nava Thakuria Elected Assistant Gen. Sec. of ...
Northeast India: People Defy Militant’s ...
Northeast India: Waiting for Justice for 18 ...
Northeast India : Where Protector Turns Killer
Raising Support for Democracy in Burma
Indian Muslims Raise Voices for Uighurs
Will Captive Breeding of Vultures Work?
Northeast India: Trailing a Notorious Rebel
Is Burma Junta Learning from Cyclone Nargis!
Is a Nepali Fugitive Winning Indian Election?
When Politician Uses Scribe for Vested Interest
Assam Editor Killing: Protest Continues
Freedom under Chinese Boot in Tibet
Pride and Poverty: India's Amazing Blending
Sri Lankan Crisis: Shelling on Hospital ...
Northeast India Defies Militant's Diktat:
Woman Journalist Killed in Nepal
Urging for Insurance Coverage to Media Persons
Bangladesh: Waiting for a Stable Democratic ...
ULFA Leader Appeals UNHCR for Political Asylum
Assam Mourns Death of Mumbai Terror Attack
When an Assamese Magazine Rejects ...
Bangladesh Polls: Apprehension on Final Outcome
Manipur Asks for CBI Probe into Scribe's ...
Scribe's Killing in Northeast: Demand for ...
'Suspend Burma from BIMSTEC'
Guwahati Citizens Meet to Discuss Terrorism
Group Clashes Shock Northeast India
When Media Distorts Facts to Manufacture News
Where Editors Swindle Reporters
Calling upon Comprehensive Packages for ...
Highlighting Media's Challenge and ...
Media on Media' Glitch: An Exercise of ...
An Ignited Assam Baffles ULFA
Assam Defies Militant's Diktat to Celebrate ...
Journalists Dare to Defy Militants' Diktat
When Bangladeshi Influx Ignites Assam
Nepal Can Expect a Consensus of Government Soon
Victorious Maoists Lose Battle for Kathmandu
India: Assam Party Waits for an Opportunity
Burma after Nargis: Devastated, Depressed and ...
When a Disastrous Regime Continues
Exposing Corrupt Journalists of Our Time
Nepal Waits a Republic Regime: Diasporas Don't ...
Waiting for Consensus on Government in Nepal
Condemnation Pours on Burmese Junta as Suu ...
American-Assamese Preparing White Paper on ...
Assam Government Bows Down to Public Outrages
Shaky Start to Druk Democracy
India and Burma Push Joint Project
Bhutan Turns Democratic
Disregarding Public Outcry: Assam Government's ...
Army, Police Heads Become Governors in North ...
Rhinos Dwindle as Poaching Thrives in India
Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul
Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes
articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove,
and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org