Bhutan. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck passed away
surprisingly in December 2006 and handed over power to his
son, Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. According
to CountryAAH, the king,
who has ruled for 34 years, had previously said he would
leave the throne in 2008, when the country's first free
elections will be held. He himself gave no explanation, but
one co-worker said that the early departure was because the
Crown Prince needed time to get used to the government.
In September, the authorities had presented the details
of the 2008 election, which will mean a transition from
absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy. The election
is part of the proposal for the country's first constitution
that King Wangchuck presented in 2005. According to the
authorities, an unlimited number of parties and
parliamentary candidates should be able to stand in the
first round of elections, but in the second and decisive
only the two parties with the most votes can participate..
Parliament should have two chambers; an upper house with 20
seats and a lower house with 75 seats. Bhutan will be
assisted by India in preparing and conducting the historic
elections. The two countries also signed an agreement on
cooperation on free trade and hydropower during the year.
The question of the more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees
who have been living in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s
remains unresolved. In November, the UN Refugee Agency again
appealed to Bhutan to take back all or part of the refugees,
claiming that they were deprived of their citizenship in
Bhutan or expelled for conducting campaigns for democracy.
New talks between Bhutan and Nepal are expected to be held
in 2007. So far, despite several negotiations and even
promises, Bhutan has not returned a single refugee. The
refugees live in camps, are dependent on food shipments from
the UN and are not allowed to work. The United States and
other Western countries have offered to accept the refugees,
but some of them believe it would legitimize ethnic
cleansing. Other refugees believe that a move to the West is
their only opportunity to get away from misery.