Prior to the establishment of the monarchy, Bhutan followed a dual system of administration initiated in 1652 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Under the Chhoesi system, the Druk Desi looked after the temporal administration and the Je Khenpo looked after religious matters of the country. Although this form of government worked over two centuries, disputes over the succession to the office brought about increasing strife and instability by the second half of the 19th century.
The First and Second King of Bhutan
A new era in the Bhutanese history began on the 17th December 1907 , when Trongsa Penlop (the Governor of Trongsa) Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the first hereditary king of Bhutan. It was a decision taken unanimously by the clergy, officials, and people acting on their desire for political stability and internal peace in the country. Thus, King Ugyen Wangchuck laid the foundation for the emergence of modern Bhutan, uniting it under a central authority.
The nation continued to enjoy peace and stability under the reign of the second king Jigme Wangchuck who succeeded him in 1926 and ruled the country till 1952.
The Third King – His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
After his ascension to the throne in 1952, the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck took the initiative of developing political consciousness among the Bhutanese people by giving them a greater say in running the country. This was most evident in the establishment if the National Assembly by the king in 1953, and later still, when his majesty voluntarily surrendered the right to veto bills in the Assembly. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck also proposed a mechanism of no-confidence vote that could require the king to abdicate his throne if he was deemed unfit to rule the nation. This, however, was met with a great deal of objection and resistance in the Assembly. Upon yet another recommendation on this issue from the king in 1969, the Assembly reluctantly approved the resolution whereby the reigning monarch would have to abdicate if two-thirds of the Assembly supported a vote of no-confidence. This system was however, abolished by the Assembly during the spring session in 1973. Under the third king’s reign, the Royal Advisory Council, the Council of Ministers and Cabinet, and a High Court were also established. Pertinently known as the father of modern Bhutan, king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck was responsible for bringing planned development into the country with the introduction of Five-Year Plans, shedding off centuries old isolation and opening Bhutan up to the rest of the world. In 1971, Bhutan joined the United Nations Organization.
The Fourth King – His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne in 1972. Like his father before him, the young king at the age of 17 wanted to open and modernize the country in a cautious manner and has always stressed on the need to foster a balanced society by promoting tradition, culture and the preservation of the environment. Considered a people’s monarch in every sense, His Majesty has guided the nation towards the pursuit of economic self-reliance, cultural promotion, environmental preservation, regionally balanced development, good governance and decentralization.
Following the royal decree issued by the king in September 2001, the government of Bhutan inaugurated the drafting of a Constitution, which is widely seen as a historic move in the process of political evolution initiated by His Majesty. The process of decentralization was a personal initiative of the king with the introduction of Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogchungs (DYTs) in 1981, and Geog Yargye Tshogchungs (GYTs) in 1991. Emotions ran high among the Bhutanese people when His Majesty devolved all executive authority from the throne to the cabinet in 1998 introducing a system in which the National Assembly would elect a Council of Ministers by secret ballot, and direct the National Assembly to re-introduce the system of a vote of confidence in the King.
Governance in Bhutan concerns the efforts of the National Assembly, Judiciary, Council of Ministers, Royal Advisory Council, and the Central Governme.
Set up in 1953, the Tshogdu (National Assembly) meets twice in a year and can be called for emergency sessions. Of its 150 members, 99 are chimmis or representatives of the people. The Monk Bodies elect 10 representatives for the monastic community. The remaining 35 are representatives of the Government and nominated from among senior officials by the king. The assembly from amongst its members elects the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. All members serve for a term of three years.