South-South Co-operation: Bhutan Shares its experience of semocratic transition with Tonga

Apr 2, 2011

At first glance there is little in common between Tonga and Bhutan. One is a Pacific Island nation of about 110,000 people, while the other is an eastern Himalayan nation of about 708, 000 people. Upon closer examination, the most obvious similarities become apparent: both have moved to embrace democracy and both are constitutional monarchies; where the King acts as the head of state within the purview of the Constitution.

Tonga embraced democracy recently through national elections during which the majority of the parliamentarians were elected by the people. In was in a country, where nobles and appointed members previously outnumbered the elected representatives. In historic elections in November 2010, Tongans elected 17 candidates representing the people, while the nobles elected 9 nobles from amongst their membership. An additional two members from outside the elected members were appointed as Ministers.

From 31 January to 4 February, an induction programme was held for all the Parliamentarians to share knowledge on their roles and responsibilities as well as the services available to them.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), joined forces with the Legislative Assembly of Tonga to deliver the  Parliamentary and Leadership Awareness Workshop with support from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (Australia), New Zealand Parliament, Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility and AusAID.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in a special message commended the Speaker of the Tongan Legislative Assembly in convening the working at an early stage of the parliamentary term. She assured the Legislative Assembly that Tonga had the support of its development partners in addressing the development challenges that the country faces and that the development partners could also share effective solutions tested in other parliaments.

Sharing experience from a transitional democracy and furthering South-South exchange, the Tongan Legislative Assembly was provided valuable insights from the Kingdom of Bhutan, in a video address by the Honorable Lyonpo Jigme Tshultim, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Bhutan.

Hon Dr ‘Ana Maui Taufe’ulungaki - lone female parliamentarian and Minister for Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture attends the Induction Workshop
Hon’ble Jigme Tshultim shared in his address some of the challenges he faced and how he coped with these during Bhutan’s recent political transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy.

He provided words of encouragement to the Legislative Assembly of Tonga in its important role of responding to the needs and aspirations of the Tongan people. Reflecting on Bhutan’s own transition that culminated in the first-ever general elections in 2008, he pointed out that democratic processes must be allowed to evolve within the country’s own systems Lord Lasike, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga was very appreciative of the message from Bhutan, as were other Tongan parliamentarians.

“It is very encouraging to learn from Bhutan’s experience. We will continue to learn more from Bhutan as we as we continue our democratic journey,” he said.

Also furthering South-South co-operation at the workshop was Sir Peter Kenilorea, former Prime Minister and former Speaker of the Parliament of Solomon Islands, who shared his political wisdom and many years of experience with the Legislative Assembly of Tonga on a range of areas including the role of parliamentarians, community outreach and the workings of parliamentary committees.

UNDP will continue to facilitate South-South knowledge exchanges for the Legislative Assembly of Tonga.