Tag Archives: tshering tobgay

Not about happiness

ImageWhat’s this, you might ask? The newly elected prime minister in Bhutan, the articulate, social-media-sophisticate and Harvard-educated Tshering Tobgay, has already declared that he doesn’t see it as his job to promote the Gross National Happiness thing to the rest of the world.

The recently exited last prime minister made a big show of the happiness discussion, appearing at the United Nations and other places to discuss the benefits of Gross National Happiness.  (Which, by the way, was simply a term bandied in an offhanded remark by the then-Kingsome 40-odd years ago in response to a reporter’s question about his planned economic growth strategy.)  He was roundly criticized by educated Bhutanese for doing so, while economic and social problems swirled and grew around him.

This seeming shift isn’t really a surprise.  This new prime minister has long decried the shiny, happy thing (see the paperback edition of my book, actually, where we meet during his service as opposition leader) and realizes there are other deeper issues in Bhutan to be addressed.

Many intellectuals in and around Bhutan hate the “happiness” thing.  (Less educated people there aren’t really aware of it; they’re too busy tending the land and surviving.)  One reason some snipe at my 2011 book, Radio Shangri-La, is because they assume from the title that it’s all about celebrating Bhutan and tra-la-la happiness.   (When in fact if they bothered to read it, they’d learn that it’s all about how media and globalization–and the promise of making piles of money–are making Bhutan unhappy.  Which is why some other people dislike the book!)

Of course the irony is that media headlines (like book titles) reduce complex issues to slogans and soundbites–which is another theme I tackle.)

Tshering Tobgay is to Bhutan like Barack Obama was to the US back in 2008, a powerful and thoughtful steward of promise and change. It’s going to be exciting, these next five years, to see how he tackles issues like rising unemployment, alcoholism and corruption, among other problems that Bhutan sadly faces along with most of the rest of the world.

And maybe, just maybe, he’ll even address the refugee issue….

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Take Two: Bhutan’s second round of democratic ruling

Last time the Bhutanese went to the polls (2007-2008) was the first time.  80% of the electorate reportedly voted, and they hadn’t even demanded democracy!  The King just presented it to them, and asked them to please go to the polls.  The party platforms were barely distinguishable from each other, and the citizenry overwhelmingly elected the party that wasn’t related to the King.

The leaders of that party, including the man who became Prime Minister, were not newbies to the scene in Bhutan, though.  And now, five years in, it sounds like democracy there morphed very quickly into the garbage we have here in the US.

The irreverent site Bhutanomics, which is banned in Bhutan, sums it up in this editorial:

“….people have realised that this is not democracy. The benefits of democracy were not felt by the people. They did not feel involved in governance, or in the endless changes in government policies. They saw cliques and power centres forming around supposedly elected leaders.  People close to the centre of power began to enjoy unimaginable and unjustifiable economic and professional rewards…. People are not looking for an individual leader. They are looking for change.”

Bhutanomics, at least, feels that change will come in the opposition party, who has been lead these last years by Tshering Tobgay.  What happens next–we’ll find out soon.  

If you want to follow the proceedings, which are starting in just a bit, the BBS has a nice page.  So does Kuensel. (Click on some of the candidates just to get a sense of the tone of the race.  I’m waiting for the day an American politician describes her/himself as “selfless.”)


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Bhutanese government on the refugee situation: Bhutan News Service

Very interesting write-up today by the exile-run news service on the situation in the camps and an apparent disagreement between the Prime Minister of Bhutan and the Opposition Leader (pictured below.)  The PM suggests repatriation might be possible for some of the refugees; while the OL vehemently opposes it. (Somehow I would have imagined it would be the other way around.)


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