Democracy, Good Governance and Happiness: Some Views from the Kingdom of Bhutan

Democracy, Good Governance and Happiness: Some Views from the Kingdom of Bhutan by Renata Lok Dessallien


Bhutan is making the transition to parliamentary democracy. But it is doing so in its own distinct way. Rather than simply adopting a Western model of liberal democracy, Bhutan has selected the elements of a democratic system that it feels will best contribute to its desired outcome – a state governed according to its philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

This paper reflects on the prospects of Bhutan’s democratic transition, drawing on lessons of international experience and on the Kingdom’s own unique characteristics. Part One examines the international community’s prevailing definitions, reviews some theories of democracy against actual performance on the ground, and summarises the confusion underpinning dominant hypotheses for democratic transition. It suggests the need for clearer distinction between ends and means with respect to governance, and for more penetrating analysis of the causal factors behind democratic deficits.

Part Two introduces Bhutan, outlining its context and planned governance reforms. Using international criteria, Bhutan may appear to be embarking on a risky venture. But the paper identifies a number of strong mitigating factors in Bhutan’s favour, especially the guiding hand of the King, the quality of today’s policy-makers and the country’s pragmatic, trial-and- error approach, all of which will contribute toward a successful transition. To perpetuate good governance, however, the paper suggests that Bhutan’s own internal logic may need to be taken even further.

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