I had been working hard preparing my students for exams and my Internet was really inconsistent for the month of November. So I'm sorry I didn't keep up with my blog, but exams are over, I'm almost done with report cards and now I am back to blogging. I have so much to update-tears, joy, surprises... However, for this blog entry, I decided to answer a friend's really tough questions about Bhutan's democracy.
...What is your take on Obama's victory, who has been re-elected to serve as the President for four more years? What do you have to say about Bhutan's next democratic election? What differences and similarities can you observe regarding the democratic institutions and their functions/roles between the two nations. And, your valuable comments and advice for the advancement of our democratic culture which infact has only recently emerged...
First, I want to share with you an interesting story: Since I don’t have television or consistent Internet, I was left in suspense about who won the elections while I was enjoying a day with a BCF Canadian friend. Randomly, we decided to go to Amankora in Bumthang for coffee where I met an American named Andy (the chef). The three of us were sitting around wondering who won, when another American happened to randomly walk in whose name was also Andy and he informed us about Obama's victory. It’s intriguing that at the moment I found out Obama won, I met two Americans with the same name that were also living in Bumthang and so us four Obama fans celebrated with cups of cappuccinos. I never expected that I would have been celebrating with two democratic Americans (I thought that I was the only American living in Bumthang) and for a moment I felt like I was in my home country. It’s funny how the world brings people together for special occasions.
Now back to your questions, upon reflecting on Obama’s victory, I think it is amazing that he has made history once again as the first African American President elected for a second term. His re-election is inspiring for anybody who has a dream regardless of one’s political affiliation. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and he has a lot on his plate both in the U.S. and in foreign affairs. I think that he has the hardest job in the country, so my only hope for him is to do his best with integrity and wisdom.
As for Bhutan’s next democratic elections, I'm always surprised that this is going to be the second election because it seems so peaceful and mellow in comparison to other countries who are struggling for democracy; to me it feels like Bhutan has been doing this for many years; it doesn’t feel like it’s a young democratic country. When I told this to one of my Bhutanese friend’s she laughed and agreed with me explaining that maybe it’s due to most of Bhutanese peaceful Buddhist ways. I’m also surprised at how I don’t hear about the politicians and media slamming their opponents down with mean and nasty slogans/advertisements (although I am not on Twitter so I may be naïve). I really hope that the elections focus on how they will solve issues while being respectful to different views without hatred, exploitation and racism. If you have ever seen an American campaign, you may know where I am trying to go with this. Yikes!
Furthermore, while being immersed in Bhutan, one positive thing that stands out to me the most between Bhutan’s democracy and America is that Bhutan has free health care whereas America is still experimenting with trying to find a system where all citizens are not burden with huge medical bills, complex insurances, etc. I have enjoyed going to the doctors in Bhutan without lengthy paperwork, medical bills or wondering what my insurance covers. Free medical care is something that Bhutan has got right from the beginning as this improves one’s happiness and living standard as well as creates an environment of equality. Kudos!!!
Additionally, I think Bhutan is extremely blessed to have the up coming elections. For instance, whenever I get a glimpse of world news showing nightmare images of people fighting for democracy in Syria and Libya, my heart goes out to them and I feel extremely grateful that not only was I born in a democratic society, but also somehow I have landed in a country where democracy is blossoming peacefully. I almost take it for granted as it is the only system I know. So although there is always room for improvements in the system and while there will always be naysayers to criticize (some valuable), one should reflect on how far Bhutan has come in terms of rapid modernization and democratization. Bhutanese should feel very proud.
Overall, my loving advice to Bhutan, is that in order to have a democratic society, the people have to take responsibility for their duties as a citizen, such as they need to be well informed about public issues in order to know what they are voting for, etc. However, one thing that many others and myself struggle with in my country is trying to figure out which way to vote on numerous propositions and who to elect because political parties make tricky advertisements with each side claiming the other is wrong and often contradicting one another. It truly makes my head spin. So if Bhutan can educate its people in simple terms on pressing matters, then the citizens will feel more confident and excited to exercise their right to participate. After all, if there are no participants, there is no democracy. So my concern is that since not every household has television, Internet, newspapers or speaks the national language, Dzongkha, how can Bhutan reach all the eligible voters to make them politically aware in a simple way?
Secondly, I wish there were a special machine that could see into every representative’s heart to find out his or her true intentions for taking office because all over the world a government seat is sometimes abused for power, greed and to feed the ego (some people don’t understand how the law of Karma works). It’s strange how high-level positions tend to attract two types of people: those who are more concerned with wealth/prestige and those who are truly interested in making a difference. Representatives who demand flashy vehicles, VIP treatment and hurriedly increase their salary are suspicious in my eyes because their intentions should always be for the betterment of individuals and not obtaining fancy things as a perk for taking the job.
Thus, since representatives have an important job of developing the country, it’s imperative to carefully choose individuals who have good intentions and to watch them closely to make sure they have the best interest for the people/country. And if a representative isn't doing their job properly, then the Bhutanese cannot stay silent and go with the crowd. They must use their freedom of speech and the media to speak out and to correct government scandals or to even initiate positive changes, such as when a costume no longer works. On the other hand, a lack of reflection or voice to cut through unskillful agendas as well as allowing oneself to be blindly led is bad social karma for everyone. So the wise and best intentioned should figure how to educate the apolitical because in the end, Bhutanese citizens are the key to Bhutan's democracy as they determine what is acceptable and not acceptable in their society and government; the people set the standards for democracy.
Lastly, it’s my understanding that a criterion for being a representative in Bhutan is to have a university degree. I can definitely see the importance of a degree, however, some of the most brilliant people didn't have university degrees, such as Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, several American presidents like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. A college degree for politics is useful, but it doesn’t guarantee that a person is capable of doing a job, has experience or holds good intentions. I think politics is something that businessmen, farmers, road workers, etc. can self-teach themselves if that is where their heart is, whereby making a difference for their country. I predict that in the future, a college degree will not be a requirement for being a representative in Bhutan as it limits the opportunity of many great minds that don’t posses a degree, yet have valuable ideas and leadership qualities.
So I could go on, but I think that I will stop here because I will have to admit politics is not my best subject even though I find it interesting. Thank you, friend, for taking the time to ask me such thoughtful questions and taking an interest in my views. It made me think a lot about how Bhutan came to embrace democracy and I wrote a little story about it to inform my family and friends who often ask, which I will post soon. I look forward to any valuable insight you can give me or others about Bhutan's democracy???
I hope we meet soon. Xoxo.