12/21/2005, 00.00
BHUTAN
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King promises parliamentary democracy by 2008

Thus declared King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The heir to the throne will become head of state, but parliament will have the power to impeach him.

Gauhati (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has said he will hand over power to his son in 2008 when the tiny Himalyan nation holds free elections to become a parliamentary democracy. This was reported by the government-owned newspaper Kuensel.

"I would like our people to know that the first national election to elect a government under a system of parliamentary democracy will take place in 2008," the king told a crowd gathered in the isolated town of Trashi Yangtse, a three-day drive from the capital, Thimpu. However he did not specify what type of government there would be nor how much power would remain in the hands of the monarchy. He said he was certain that when his son acceded to the throne, "Bhutan will remain strong and glorious and our country will achieve greater prosperity with the sun of peace and happiness shining on our people".

For some months now, the king has circulated a constitution bill which puts an end to the system of government in force for at least 100 years.

The draft constitution provides for two houses of parliament. The king would remain head of state, but parliament would have the power to impeach him by a two-thirds vote.

Bhutan, a tiny nation nestled between India and China, does not have political parties and only a handful of daily newspapers. Until a short time ago, it rarely let in foreigners and television only came in recently. Even now, only about 6,000 tourists a year are allowed in.

King Wangchuck has led the poor but beautiful country gradually towards modernization. He says "gross national happiness" is more important than "gross national product" and so he has picked selectively from the fruits of modernization. He has also passed severe rules to rigorously protect the environment and the country's historic memories.

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