The area of today’s Bhutan was probably under the influence of Tibet from the 7th century. From there, Buddhism was brought into the country, which in its Lamaistic form became the dominant religion. From around the 8th century, the people of Bhotia (also: Bhutanese) immigrated to Tibet from the area and founded smaller principalities that fought among themselves. Over the centuries, the Buddhist “red cap sect” of the lamas (priests) apparently gained in importance. From the 12th century, so-called monastery castles (dzongs) were built, of which remnants are still preserved today.
The principalities were united in the state around 1610 when Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1652), a high clergyman of Lamaism from Tibet, subjugated the individual rulers and united them into one empire. He took the title of Shabdung (spiritual and secular leader) and transferred the Tibetan theocratic system of government to the new empire.
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In the 18th century, Bhutan extended its empire to the south and southwest, thereby coming into conflict with the great European power Great Britain, which was the dominant colonial power in India in the mid-18th century. After armed conflicts (British-Bhutanese wars 1772-74 and 1864-65), Bhutan first had to surrender the occupied Indian territories and later other areas in the Ganges-Brahmaputra lowlands. This created the country’s borders that still exist today.
Due to the separation of spiritual and secular power, the power of Shabdung had decreased in favor of the various princes (Penlops) in the country. In 1884 one of these competing Penlops, Ugyen Wangchuk of Tongsa, prevailed over his rivals and was crowned king in 1907. The Wangchuk dynasty still rules in Bhutan.
In 1910, the country signed a protectorate agreement with Great Britain: the European great power granted the country military protection and conducted its foreign policy for annual payments. India assumed this protective role in 1949 after Great Britain withdrew from the Indian subcontinent. In 1952, Jigme Dorij Wangchuk became the new king of Bhutan and began reforming the state. The measures included the establishment of a state parliament (Tshogdu) and a royal council (1953), the abolition of serfdom (1959) and the establishment of a free school system (1960). In 1969 the absolute monarchy was changed to a constitutional one: Among other things, the king could now be deposed from the state parliament if he acted against the interests of his own people. In 1971 Bhutan gained full sovereignty, but committed to providing foreign policy advice from India. In the same year the country joined the UN.
From 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuk continued the course of modernization and the opening of the country as the new king. In the early 1980s, the first negotiations with China over the exact course of the border between the two countries in northern Bhutan were conducted (border treaty May 1988). In 1983 Bhutan, along with Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was one of the founding members of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation / Group for South Asian Regional Cooperation). The aim of this organization was the economic, political and cultural cooperation of the participating countries.
In 1989 the Bhutanese king passed a law requiring Nepalese immigrants to leave the country after 1958. A census had shown that Hindu Nepalese made up around 45% of Bhutan’s total population and there was a risk that Buddhist Buthanes could become a minority. According to AbbreviationFinder, this law caused serious unrest in the country. By 1994, thousands of Nepalese had fled the kingdom. To prevent foreign infiltration from outside, the number of foreign visitors is still severely restricted (tourist visas were issued for the first time in 1974). In 1999 Bhutan was the last country in the world to introduce television. This had previously been prohibited in order to protect one’s own culture from foreign influences. In 2006, King Wangchuk abdicated in favor of his son Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.
Since a constitutional reform in 1998, the National Assembly has been able to elect the ministers and determine their powers. She also had the option of a vote of no confidence against the head of state. The cabinet also received executive powers, with the Council of Ministers providing the head of government (annual rotation).
From 2001, a new constitution was drawn up in accordance with the king’s order, which came into force in 2008. It contains a catalog of fundamental rights and a democratic constitutional monarchy. The elections for the first National Council took place in December 2007 and January 2008. The first National Assembly was elected in March 2008. The royalist party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) won the first parliamentary elections in Bhutan’s history. The enthusiasm for the democracy decreed by the king is limited among the citizens of the Himalayan state: The veneration for the royal family that has ruled since 1907 is too great. Political observers even agree that a referendum would have rejected the introduction of the democratic system.
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Gross National Happiness plays an important role in Bhutan’s politics. It consists of four principles: promoting fair and sustainable socio-economic development, preserving and promoting fair and sustainable values, preserving the natural environment and enforcing good governance. The state sets the development goals in five-year plans.