Keynote address by Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay at the inaugural of Asian Parliamentary Assembly’s Standing Committee Meeting on 31 August 2017

Hon’ble Speaker of Bhutan,

Hon’ble Chairperson of the National Council,

Hon’ble Leaders of delegations,

Hon’ble Parliamentarians,

President and Secretary General of Asian Parliamentary Assembly, Distinguished guests and participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to take this privilege to convey the warm greetings and good wishes of His Majesty the King and the people of Bhutan. My country and I are truly honoured to host this important meeting in Bhutan.

The gathering in Bhutan, where the Standing Committee on Social and Cultural Affairs will discuss measures on protecting cultural diversity and cultural heritage in Asia, is most auspicious and appropriate.

I say this because in Bhutan, we take pride in our cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, that has been the basis of our identity as a sovereign nation. Therefore, it may not be a mere coincidence that our very capable Hon’ble speaker is serving as the Vice President of the Standing Committee on Social and Cultural Affairs.

I am happy to learn that the Parliament of Bhutan continues to actively participate in the Asian Parliamentary Assembly’s general assembly and in other standing committees. Bhutan is a country rich in culture and social values and thus Bhutan’s contribution will be significant through hosting of the meeting.

Distinguished parliamentarians

This is the biggest gathering of parliamentarians in my country, and I would like to take this opportunity to share our journey to a parliamentary democracy.

For centuries, my country has followed a policy of self-imposed isolation. We built our first motor-able road only in the 1960s; we started our first five-year development plans only in 1961 and we introduced internet in the Kingdom only in 1999.

However, guided by the Buddhist wisdom that has evolved through the millennia, Bhutan had always taken the rule of law seriously, even before we shed the policy of self-imposed isolation and long before we introduced parliamentary democracy.

Bhutan’s modern parliamentary process started in 1954 when His Majesty the Third King established the National Assembly to develop political consciousness among the people, and to ensure better administration of the country. The Assembly was not a mere ceremonial body. His Majesty the King empowered the Assembly, to remove, even the king by a majority or three-fourth majority vote against him.

This selflessness arises from the virtues that are engrained in our

culture and derived from Buddhism. In Bhutan, we call them the enlightened monarchs – Dharma Kings.

The independence of the three arms of government, crucial for a

functioning democracy was realised long before we opened up. In

1969, on a royal command, the judiciary was separated from the executive to ensure better administration of justice.

Ladies and gentlemen

Bhutan survived and thrived largely because of the political vision of our leaders. In our history, political leadership dates back to the 17th century. The great Zhabdrung who fought off invaders and unified the kingdom was both a monk and a king. By the end of his reign, he bifurcated the system of governance with separate leaders for the clergy and the secular community.

Since then, we have evolved from a theocracy to an absolute monarchy to a unique Democratic Constitutional Monarchy.

This journey has been peaceful, seamless and unique. This is because the transition didn’t happen overnight. The transition was nurtured by successive monarchs. The process of decentralisation matured into the democratisation process culminating in a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. International observers have said that Bhutan has been blessed by successive Kings who seem to carry the gene of a democratic nature.

Distinguished members of parliament

Our constitution is unique in many ways. It not only empowers the citizen, but also keeps religion and religious community out of politics. It is a gift from His Majesty the King, who enjoys the absolute confidence of his people.

The Constitution of Bhutan was not drafted or given under coercion or compulsion. The people of Bhutan did not want the Constitution imposed democracy, but His Majesty, in his wisdom, insisted that it was necessary to have one for the benefit of our posterity.

No other Constitution in the world has a provision where the King has to abdicate and hand over the Throne at the age of 65. No other constitution in the world has provisions to protect its environment and fix a minimum limit of forest coverage.

The Constitution requires the state to promote conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness, a vision for development gifted to the world by His Majesty the Great Fourth.

In the context of culture, which Hon’ble parliamentarians would be discussing today, our Constitution has a separate Article on Culture. In the GNH narrative, it is recognized that a decline in traditional heritage and cultural wisdom will lead to a weakened society. Even as we discuss this, if you look around, many countries are regretting the loss of their culture because of changing times and priorities.

Our Parliament has Social and Cultural committees mandated to review and recommend measures for promotion and preservation of all forms of culture. One of their functions is to interact with relevant national, regional and international organizations and stakeholders.

Today, I am happy to see Hon’ble members from 20 countries engaged in discourse on this important issue.

As each member country has their own unique and successful narrative of Parliamentary development. I hope the Assembly will provide an excellent forum for sharing great ideas and experiences, from which we can learn, become wiser and foster bonds between our parliamentarians and countries.

Ladies and gentlemen

There are grand objectives made when regional or international bodies meet, but too often much is forgotten after the event. In our Region for instance, we talk of the vast resources, of cultural and historical ties, of similarities among the nations. We talk about commonalities, but our differences dominate.  Quite often, our regional efforts are overshadowed by bilateral differences.

With the blessing of our protective deities, I pray that Bhutan hosting the important meeting will culminate in realistic commitments in preserving, promoting and protecting our rich cultural heritage and cultural diversity.

I also hope that Bhutan hosting the Social and Cultural Committee meeting will:

  • Enhance Bhutan’s parliamentary relations with other countries;
  • Promote parliamentary diplomacy and tourism;
  • Contribute towards promotion of social and cultural values among Asian countries; and
  • Showcase Bhutan’s successful journey in preservation and promotion of our culture; and

With this in mind, I would like to sincerely thank all the delegations and participants of this conference for their earnest participation to the success of this event.

I am hopeful that this meeting will contribute in bringing regional cooperation, peace and harmony, and the right to development as well as social, cultural, and environmental rights of the peoples in Asia.

Thank you and Tashi Delek.

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