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Bhutan State and Local Government – from the Himalayas to the Rocky Mountains

 

Bhutan has guarded its sovereignty earnestly and is now nurturing its democracy with a prudent transition into modernity. Flying in from this Himalayan mountainous nation, and landing in the shade of the Rockies, in November four Bhutanese leaders spent an educational exchange learning from the USA’s experience in building a federalist nation.

 

On their first day in Denver, an unexpected number of WorldDenver board and members, huddled around a rather more crowded table than anticipated to welcome the four Bhutanese government officials. What first drew me in as an emblem of the national pride of the Bhutanese guests was a badge glinting on the front of a visitor’s traditional Gho (knee length, robe-like cloth worn by men). On it was a portrait of an elegant Bhutanese couple. At first, I jumped to the conclusion that it could be a relative, but on correction he informed us gladly that it was his king and queen. And it was this young king that guided the country into the final steps of democracy, a project that has been more than 60 years in the making.

Bhutan is currently the fifth youngest democracy in the world, becoming so in 2008. The transition had long been anticipated with years of preparation by the monarchy itself. Though the king remains head of state, the country has now elected all members of the government, local, state and federal since 2011.

 

To offer solidarity and insight in building a federalist government, the four Bhutanese leaders were brought to participate in an International Visitors Leadership Program in the USA. The Department of State funded three-week long program aimed at sharing knowledge and offering insight into the U.S. political system. Specifically, the goal was to introduce the structural system of the federalist system, including observing the electoral system during the midterms. Moreover, to explore public decision-making, such as budgets, compliance with laws and cooperation between local, state and federal governments and external agencies – including the media.

 

Arguably, one consequence of such a transition is the challenge of building a balance of power at various levels of government. Though the IVLP group only had one day of meetings due to proximity with Thanksgiving, each reunion was focused on innovative organization aiming at promoting collaboration between state, private and even the non-profit sectors.

 

Their first meeting was in the Denver Office of Economic Development, where a highlight was an introduction to the Commons on Champa. This office provides free co-working spaces, meeting rooms and event rooms for extremely competitive and accessible prices – all targeted to entrepreneurs. Another meeting was with The Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), which provides assistance to county commissioners, mayors and Council members and to encourage counties to work together on common issues.

 

 

Set aside the professional meeting, another critical mission of WorldDenver is to promote Citizen Diplomacy, that is to say promoting individuals to form diplomatic relations with international visitors. Fortunately the Bhutanese landed in Denver in time for Thanksgiving, when they were hosted in pairs by Iris Fontera and Laurie Zeller.

 

Additionally, two representatives from the Global Bhutanese Community Colorado, Inc (GBCC, Inc), offered hospitality to the group, taking them to visit the Red Rocks Amphitheater. This organization was founded to support the Bhutanese that were victim of systematic eviction of those with Nepali origin in 1990. At that time thousands of Bhutanese spent decades waiting in refugee camps in Nepal and when were not called back to Bhutan a refugee program was set up in the United States. The GBCC help to integrate these Bhutanese into community and work life. They were thrilled to host the Bhutanese leaders and as Bhutan moves forward, healing the fissures in society will be meaningful.

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