Bhutan Table of Contents

The Monarchy

The hereditary monarchy of Bhutan was established in 1907 after 300 years of dual theocratic-civil government. The Druk Gyalpo--the king--is both head of state and head of government. In the process of coming to power, the first Druk Gyalpo, Ugyen Wangchuck, who reigned from 1907 to 1926, unified the nation, established friendly relations with Britain, and set his dynasty's political agenda. As of 1991, there had been three other hereditary monarchs: Jigme Wangchuck (1926-52), Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952-72), and Jigme Singye Wangchuck (since 1972). December 17, the anniversary of the day Ugyen Wangchuck became the first hereditary monarch in 1907, is Bhutan's National Day.

Established as an absolute monarchy in 1907, Bhutan first moved toward a constitutional monarchy in 1953 with the foundation of its National Assembly. In 1963 the monarch's title was changed from "His Highness" to "His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo" in a move to assert a distinct Bhutanese identity. The Druk Gyalpo retained veto power over actions of the National Assembly until 1969 when the National Assembly, following his 1968 decree, became the kingdom's sovereign institution. After 1969, the National Assembly could remove the Druk Gyalpo the through a no-confidence vote, and he no longer had veto power. To secure the Wangchuck Dynasty, however, should the Druk Gyalpo be dethroned through a no-confidence vote, the Wangchuck family member next in line of succession would automatically take the throne. Also beginning in 1969, at the insistence of the Druk Gyalpo a "democratic monarchy" was to be determined through triennial votes of confidence in the Druk Gyalpo's rule.

In 1972 Jigme Singye Wangchuck succeeded his father, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had involved the young prince in the work of government and had appointed him crown prince and ponlop of Tongsa only a few months before dying. After his accession to the throne in 1972, the new Druk Gyalpo was assisted by his uncle, Dasho (Prince) Namgyal Wangchuck, and his elder sisters, Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuck and Ashi Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck, who served in the ministries of finance and development as the Druk Gyalpo's representatives. (Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuck later became minister of finance.) Jigme Singye Wangchuck was formally enthroned in June 1974.

In 1979 Jigme Singye Wangchuck privately married four sisters who were descendants of two of the shabdrung, the rulers of the old dual system of government. In 1988, in order to legitimize the eventual succession to the throne for his oldest son, Dasho Jigme Gesar Namgyal Wangchuck, the Druk Gyalpo and his four sisterqueens were married again in a public ceremony in Punakha. At the time of the public wedding, it was reported that the Druk Gyalpo lived in a small, simply furnished house, across from the Tashichhodzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion), the year-round central government complex in Thimphu. His four queens each maintained separate residences. The Druk Gyalpo's mother, the Dowager Queen Pemadechen (Ashi Kesang Dorji), continued to reside in the royal palace at Dechenchholing, living as a Buddhist nun. The Tashichhodzong, a stone-and-timber structure, has thick whitewashed walls, seven towers covered with red roofs, and a series of interior courtyards. The entire structure is richly ornamented. The current Tashichhodzong complex, which has more than 100 rooms, was completed in 1969 after seven years of construction on the site of an older dzong of the same name. Originally built in the twelfth century, the Tashichhodzong had been rebuilt in the eighteenth century and required the 1962-69 reconstruction because of damage over the centuries from fires and earthquakes. It also was the residence of the spiritual leader of Bhutan, the Je Khenpo, during the summer.

After coming to the throne in 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck became increasingly interested in economic development and traveled extensively throughout the country. He also has traveled a great deal outside of Bhutan, attending international meetings and personally representing his country in New Delhi on frequent occasions. A young, vigorous head of state unafraid to break from the bureaucracy and constraints of his office--including his trips to the countryside where the Druk Gyalpo could be seen "serving the people"--Jigme Singye Wangchuck presented the monarchy as progressive and symbolic of national unity.

Structure of the Government
Political Developments
The Media
Foreign Relations
Participation in International Organizations

For more information about the government, see Facts about Bhutan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress