The history of Bhutan | The monarchy | Jigme Singye Wangchuck | King and state

King and state

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck rules the country with the help of the government (zhung), which fulfils the executive tasks. The portfolios of internal affairs, finances, planning, communication, health and education, trade and industry, agriculture and foreign affairs are each filled by one minister.

The legislative force comes from the National Assembly (tshogdu). It consists of 150 members (chimi*), of which 105 are elected by the rural communities, in a secret ballot, every three years. Every household has one vote. 10 members are sent by the clergy, elected by the Central Monastic Body and the District Monastic Body. 35 chimis are appointed directly by the king from the circle of high officials. The National Assembly meets together with the king in the capital, Thimphu, twice a year in order to enact laws and advise the government. Bills are passed by simple majority. Since over two thirds of the members are secretly elected representatives of rural communities, Bhutan can, in a certain sense, be called democratic, even though the prerequisite for a democracy in the European understanding, namely political parties, is not fulfilled.

The advisory councils

The Royal Advisory Council (lodey tshogdey) was founded in 1965, with the tasks to advise the king and the ministers and to supervise the implementation of programmes and the procedures of the National Assembly. Six of its nine members are elected by the National Assembly for three years from smaller local political bodies (dzongkhag), one each is delegated from the Central Monastic Body and the District Monastic Body, and the head of the council is nominated by the king.

The Monastic Body consists of the Central Monastic Body (Punakha, Thimphu, Dratshang) and the District Monastic Body (rabdey) and deals with religious matters. Bhutan's approx. 5000 monks are financially supported by the royal government. The head of the monk-body (dratshang lhentshog) is the Je Khenpo, who is elected by high-ranking monks. Four members of the Central Monastic Body assist him.



The legal code of the jurisdiction goes back to the founder of the state, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The present laws (thrimshung chenmo) were enacted by the National Assembly, in 1957. The Supreme Court consists of eight judges, who are partly appointed by the king and partly elected by the National Assembly. The courts in each of the 20 districts is headed by a thrimpön, who is assisted by ramjams. Only those legal cases get treated at court which cannot be decided on by the village notables.

This leads from the state political level on to the 80 percent of the Bhutanese population who live, not only geographically seen, in rural structures far away from the capital. Here daily affairs are still dealt with autonomously and according to the old traditions. Social action is ruled by the personal relations between individuals and the relation between the society and the divine nature. These old traditions are also consciously integrated into Bhutan's philosophy of government and administration.

The administrative structures

Bhutan is divided into 20 administrative districts (dzongkhags). The district heads (dzongdas) are responsible of administration, taxation, developmental activities and questions of protocol. They are appointed by the king, but report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They are assisted by dzongrabs. Big dzongkhags are again sub-divided into dungkhags, which are headed by dungpas.

The dzongkhag itself consists of 196 gewogs, headed by elected gups, whose task it is to assist the dzongdags in collecting taxes, mobilising workers for communal projects and public constructions and in settling conflicts. All in all, they are in charge of every-day political life.

Measures of decentralisation have recently been enforced by law, especially with regard to developmental affairs. Since 1981 there have been District Development Committees and since 1991 Gewog Development Committees, which have formally replaced the old traditional »Meetings of Households« (gewog zomdue). Their members are elected by the village communities.

The history of Bhutan
.  Bhutan before ..
.  Shabdrung Ngawang ..
.  The monarchy
.  .  Jigme Namgyel
.  .  Ugyen Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Dorje Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Singye Wangchuck
.  .  .  King and state
.  .  .  King and lama
Bhutans religion
Gods and Sacred ..

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Photograph, framed; size: 50 cm x 38 cm; loan from the Museum für Völkerkunde, Wien
The King and Bhutan's head abbot, the Je Khenpo, generally agree in their ways of ruling the country. Photographs with both of them can not only be seen in many offices, but also in monasteries and private houses.

Sword with scabbard and belt, iron, silver, partially gilded, textile; L: 89,5 cm; loan from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool
The sword is worn attached to a belt decorated with fine silver buckles. Next to their useful value at war, swords used to be seen as status symbol of the aristocracy. Today only those who are knighted as Dasho* (Senior Officer) by the King are allowed to wear it.