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A Public Forum on “Government and Politics in Nepal and Bhutan

 A Public Forum on “Government and Politics in Nepal and Bhutan”

The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building 

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

......................................................

Opening Remarks

Prof. Dr. Supachai Yavaprabhas

Dean, Faculty of Political Science

Chulalongkorn University

Speaker

Nepal: The Trials and Tribulations of A Republic

Dr. Nishchal N. Pandey

Director, Centre for South Asian Studies

Kathmandu, Nepal

Bhutan: Gross National Happiness?

Mr. Tashi Dorji

Editor and Managing Director

Business Bhutan, Thimphu, Bhutan

Moderator

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Director of ISIS Thailand,

Faculty of Political Science Chulalongkorn University.

..............................................................................

 Moderator:                        Asso.Prof.Thitinan Pongsudhirak

                                                Director, Institute of Security and International Studies

                                                Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

In Dr. Thitinan’s introductory remarks, he noted the importance of this public forum which focuses on Nepal and Bhutan. For Nepal, the transition from a monarchy to a republic can be seen as an unhappy one. In the case of Bhutan, it is a period of transformation of the  monarchy to become more democratic as they have introduced a constitution and elections. Dr. Thitinan pointed out the indirect aim for this forum was providing insights in analyzing the current situation in Thailand. He acknowledged this event was not attracting media attention. Yet, the forum itself concerns the role of monarchy in a political context.

 

Welcome remarks:         Prof.Supachai Yavaprabhas

                                                Dean

                                                Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Dr.Supachai welcomed everyone to the forum. During his deanship, he said he had observed many ISIS forums which have been important in different ways. He hoped the audience would enjoy this forum with its fruitful discussion and, thus, be inspired to learn more about Thailand’s situation.

 

Speaker:                              Dr. Nishchal N. Pandey

                                                Director, Centre for South Asian Studies

                                                Katmandu, Nepal

Nishchal began his remarks noting the history of Nepal as a land which never been colonized. Nepalese are proud of their history. Nepal used to be an absolute monarchy system. Beginning in 1996, Maoist radicalism started a bloody insurgency which caused a death toll of 16,000 people within 10 years. The Maoist insurgents confiscated many weapons from the Nepalese Army. In 2001, the government declared a state of emergency and began a counter-insurgency operation. However, the operation was not successful since there were many human rights abuses and geographical difficulties. Neither the government nor the insurgents could gain victory. Furthermore, the political situation made everything worse. Nepalese had to greet a new Prime Minister every year for 19 years. This created frustrations among Nepalese citizens

 

Nishchal emphasized that the respect of the people towards the royal family still prevailed. However, the 2001 massacre of members of the royal family shook the image of the king as  “descended from the gods”. To make things worse, the royal family did nothing to combat internal warfare, and it blamed the politicians, especially Prime Minister. This created a situation wherein the government lost support from its citizens. In addition, corruption was rife, and the army, which the royal family relied on, was getting weaker and weaker. They were incapable of handling the warfare and politicians. The result was the loss of respect for the royal family from a ‘do nothing’ perspective. Apart from the political stance, rumors of citizens having been killed by the former prince drove support to a new low. Therefore, the 2006 the decision to change the political system resulted in relegating the monarchy to history. It was ended in 2008.

 

Nishchal pointed out that although there was a political change, the post-monarchy situation was not as smooth as citizens hoped. A hung parliament occurred although a Maoist fundamentalist party gained majority support; an uncontrollable situation in southern states, the dissolution of the constituent assembly after the failure of drafting a new constitution, and major political institutions still were dysfunctional. Currently, Nepal has no constitution or parliament. From his point of view, the former king still draws some support from citizens. This situation is very unattractive for tourism and business investment. In the end, he thought the best way is to keep the Monarchy as a symbolic institution, maintain the official declaration of state religion, and improve the politicians despite the political system.

 

Speaker:                              Tashi Dorji

                                                Editor and Managing Director

                                                Business Bhutan

Tashi began his remarks noting an extensive history of Bhutan which had a dual-administrative governance shared between the spiritual leader the governmental leader from 17th century. However, the system creates certain chaos over time. In the early 20th century, the political system changed to a absolute monarchy. At the beginning of the current century, the political system was changed to a constitutional monarchy by the former king. The role of the monarchy in Nepal is highly respected by Bhutanese.

 

He noted that Bhutan is an isolated country in terms of both geography and policy. On the one hand, its geographical location and its terrain isolate it. On the other, the policy before the middle of 20th century also played an important part in limiting access to Bhutan. However, the situation has been changed since 1961 when the government decided to open Bhutan to the world. This shift was caused by two important factors: the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the independence of India. Bhutan joined the United Nations 10 years later.

 

Starting with the 4th king, there have been many situations that need to be improved, for example: a very low literacy rate and very few graduates, an agriculture-driven society and the lack of modern infrastructure. To tackle modern development issues, the aim was to focus on happiness as a core element of development for the country. It was to became the philosophy of development for Bhutan which is called “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). Later on, this developmental concept has been propagated throughout the world and has become more scientific through the development of a GNH mathematical model. Today, the GNH gained popularity as an alternative developmental model. The GNH has contains several main core concepts: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation.

 

For Tachi, the implementation of GNH still faces some serious issues such as: the accuracy of a mathematical model as it is harder to measure qualitative elements (emotions) than quantitative elements, the failure of implementation, lack of policy in practice, top-down implementation, and idealistic implementation. Most of the problems occur when the opinions from citizen are given limited attention. Most of the decisions are still centralized within the government especially bureaucrats and implemented without concern for reality.

 

He noted that the freedom of expression, which comes as a result of globalization, has driven the society to compromise and to let the discourse of openness be circulated through the society. However, the culture will shape and control its flow.

 

In the end, he emphasized that the Bhutanese should have a way to join the development plan and its implementation. Furthermore, this is a concept which is still yet to be finalized. Even though, the GNH is an effort of Bhutanese to face up to modern development, it is a hope for them. It is a cosmopolitism view of development.

 

Questions and Answers session

Q: As to Nepal, if the King is a guardian of the constitution, why did the former King order the suspension of the institution’s implementation? The King of Nepal is not a victim anyway. For Bhutan, while we see the great freedom of expression the control of the media still comes from the government through advertisements such as is the case of the Bhutan Times.

 

Nishchal: We are a new democracy, although some institutions are missing. What you said about the King needs some clarification. The King was asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament. In Nepal, the “lese majeste” law was observed during the period of the monarchy. However, when freedom came, the truth was revealed. Many realities came to the surface, such as the real condition of Royal Palace which had become a museum. It is depends on how you look at it.

 

Tachi: Are you talking about the website or newspaper? What was closed is the website run by Bhutanese based in the U.S. Currently, the newspaper and their website is still running. It’s true that most advertisements comes from the government. It is a big concern there.

 

Q: Is it possible for the former king to obtain the popular vote? In a democratic process, is it possible for the monarch to be elected by people? How long will it take for Nepal to stabilize, especially as this is a tourist year? Will the monarchy institution be reinstated and bring stability back?

 

Nishchal: We are not yet stabilized. The problem now is we don’t have any functional constitution. We are now having trouble. Nepalese society is very complex. We need a constitution first and foremost. Everything now is in an interim state. This will create instability. I hope all major political parties will think about the stabilization. In Nepal, formerly we had to rely too much on the monarchy. We have to learn how to solve problems by ourselves. This is a great problem. Nepalese are aware that they have a problem when it comes to ethical issues and state conflicts. We need some institutions to do the resource allocation carefully. For the future of Nepal, it is uncertain where we are going next.

 

Q: GHN is a development model which we are proud of. Do you think there is any need to compromise its implementation? Is culture support required?

 

T: Definitely not. But we have to make it practical. All efforts right now are about the implementation but on the ground there is a GNH fatigue. We have to acknowledge that fatigue. For cultural support, it is certainly necessary. However, the journey is not smooth, and there are many challenges ahead.

 

9.  Organisers & Resource Persons

 

 

10. Summarized statement of Programme Evaluation by Participants:

 

Participants were learned about Nepal and Bhutan situation.

 

11. Did the programme meet the set Objectives?

 

Yes, it did. The forum was well intended.

 

12. What is the likely follow up

 

Similar forums will be held in the coming months.

 

13. Please specify the total amount & type of expenses met by Partner in Cash/kind

 

14. Please specify the total amount & type of expenses met by others donors in Cash/ kind

 


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