2 minute read
Alex Perry

Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the man who would rather not be king. When he ascended the throne as Bhutan’s absolute monarch in 1974, Wangchuck was the closest thing to God in his tiny, closed Himalayan kingdom of half a million people. His reign has been a benevolent one. Rather than oppose modernization only to be run over by it, the King championed various reforms, such as allowing in foreign tourists, television and the Internet, while limiting their impact in order to preserve the country’s values and traditions. Mindful of some pernicious side effects of economic growth, he introduced the idea of “Gross National Happiness”taking account of such intangibles as cultural integrity and spiritual well-beingas an alternative to Gross National Product. Mark Mancall, a history professor at Stanford University and a regular visitor to Bhutan, says the King’s initiatives are “an important social and political experiment in today’s world.”

If anything, that experiment has been too successful. The King’s ultimate aim has long been to replace feudal monarchy with parliamentary democracy. But thanks to his judicious rule, the King’s subjects are less than enthralled by the prospect of politics disturbing their peaceful lives. During a nationwide roadshow campaign at the end of last year to convince Bhutan of the merits of elected government, King Wangchuck was met by crowds imploring him to stay on. Wangchuck subsequently postponed his plans until 2008. It’s nice to be trustedup to a point.

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