A nation is hailing the ascension of a young
and charismatic leader. It is not the United States, but rather the small
Himalayan country of Bhutan. From the capital, Thimpu, VOA correspondent Steve
Herman reports on the sweeping changes culminating with the crowning of the
Fifth Druk Gyalpo, otherwise known as King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
While the rest of world focuses on the election of a young
senator as president of the United States, here in the Himalayas all eyes are on
a 28-year-old Western-educated hereditary monarch as he receives the Raven
The coronation of Jigme Khesar as Bhutan's first constitutional
monarch, culminates a two-year transfer of royal power from his father, Jigme
Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated in late 2006.
Bhutan Foreign Secretary Yeshey Dorji says the
formal crowning in the Land of the Thunder Dragon had to wait for an auspicious
date set by astrologers. In the meantime, the new king assumed the duties of his
"You need to get some expertise and experience in
functioning as a king. So, before the formal coronation, His Majesty already
took over the role of the king and he has been functioning since then," said
A business entrepreneur in the capital, Sonam Tobgay,
gives Jigme Khesar preliminary high marks, explaining that Bhutanese will not
praise a monarch merely because he was born to rule.
"You're not born with leadership qualities.
It's something that you mature and you build over a period of time," said
Tobgay. "He's been matured, he's been cultured, groomed to take over this task.
As far as we can see he's done a very good job over the last one year."
Not only did the Fourth King of the century-long Wangchuck Dynasty
voluntarily step aside, but in a move perhaps unprecedented in history - coming
as it did without internal or external pressure - the monarch commanded that a
constitution be drafted and the country shift to a parliament-based democracy.
Bhutanese were initially shocked and then confused by the moves of their
revered king, who had ruled peacefully for 34 years.
King Jigme Singye
had broken with convention, previously. He developed the concept of Gross
National Happiness, stressing emotional well-being over the traditional economic
indicator of Gross National Product.
Communications Minister Nandalal Rai
tells VOA News the Fourth King, over the past quarter century, wanted his
traditionally isolated kingdom to become more integrated in the international
"Our Fourth King has been trying to train us and
make us aware of the situation that has been happening in the world - that the
government must be of the people and for the people. That is the democratic
process. He did, in his wisdom, felt the people must be able to take care of
themselves, not a particular person ruling like in the medieval ages," said Rai.
The transition has been stable, so far. Parliament elections were held,
this year, with the winning party sweeping nearly every constituency, defying
pollsters who predicted a close race in the contentious campaign.
changes for the Buddhist nation of 635,000 people, wedged between giant
neighbors China and India, have brought other outside influences, as well, not
all of them positive.
Modern communications has
been good for education and the fledgling business community, but it puts
pressure on traditional culture.
Thimpu businessman Tobgay says
Bhutanese understand there may be a price to pay for modernity.
"That is a risk that we have to take. All these things, the Western
culture creeping in and the contamination of our indigenous culture, tradition,
it's a possibility. With the introduction of TV, with the Internet and the
cellular phone, these are things that we cannot avoid. If we avoid this we will
become like the dinosaur. If you fail to evolve, you become extinct," said
With the coronation, Bhutan, the world's newest democracy, also
becomes the nation with the youngest reigning monarch. But the Fifth King of the
modern dynasty will not stay on the throne beyond early in the year 2045. That
is not a prognostication of the astrologers but rather the mandate of the new
constitution, under which the sovereign, at age 65, must retire.