MonitorsPublished on Sep 14, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII-37

Bhutan: Governance amid Covid-19 pandemic

Mihir Bhonsale 

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed challenges to governance and impaired governability across the world. For smaller countries, the  challenges are even manifold, often putting the policy-makers in a dilemma over their choices. Governance refers to the process of decision-making and also the process through which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).

Bhutan ranks high in the governance category on the Bertelsmann Transformation Index of 2020, ranking 13th  among 137 countries in the Asia and Oceania region. Having successfully implemented quarantining, rigorous-testing and contact-tracing, Bhutan, led by the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and the Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering, have so far been able to check the number of Covid infections. Guided by the national philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), the nation has so far avoided any death due to Covid.

Lock-down and institutions

The maturing of institutions is the key to success of any democracy and Bhutan is no exception. Reckoning the threat that the virus poses to the Himalayan kingdom, the institutions in the country are faced with an uphill task of checking the growth of infections and arresting community transmission.

The different institutions of the state coordinated well ever since the first Covid-19 case was identified in March. As the key institution of Bhutan’s polity, the monarchy has a significant role in times of emergencies. And since March, the King travelled extensively, overseeing the preparations of the nation’s battle against the virus. The De-sung, a citizen volunteer service steered by the King, provided  valuable service during this crisis period. The Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu or grant, provided immediate relief to over 23,000 individuals who had partially or fully lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic.

Invoking his powers during an emergency, the King gave directions to the government to announce a nationwide lock-down. The positive case of a woman from Gelephu apparently triggered the imposition of the lock-down. The country went into shock-waves owing to the fear that widespread community-transmission of the virus has begun.

Bhutan resorted to lock-down late. By imposing a 21-day nationwide lock-down from 11-31 August, the nation demonstrated a high-level of cooperation with the authorities. A total of 111 positive cases were detected through surveillance during the lock-down period.

The maximum number of positive cases were detected in the town of Phuentsholing. Areas along Bhutan’s 699-kilometre-long international border with India, including the border towns of Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Samtse, continue to be in the ‘Red Zone’ and the restrictions on the movement of people still remain.

Institutional independence           

The King in general circumstance refrains from governance and policy-making, as these powers rest with the Parliament and the government. A demonstration of institutional independence of the government was the decision to do away with the prohibition on the sale of tobacco in the country. Tobacco products were earlier banned because of their health risks, besides these products being a taboo in Buddhism.

However, the government allowed the sale of tobacco products as a temporary measure to curb users from going outside and smuggling these products, thus increasing chances of virus-transmission. By legalising the sale of tobacco, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa government posed a challenge to the morals of the Bhutanese society. Hence, King’s non-interference in policy-matters as a feature of governance in Bhutan stands out even more.

Governance challenges

Since 1 September, the government has begun the unlock process in a phased manner. Labour-intensive sectors like construction, suspended during the lock-down, have resumed. However, there is a shortage of labour, as the migrant labour have gone back to their homes. The supply of materials required for construction has also been affected.

Similarly, the construction of the ongoing hydro-electric projects has been delayed due to the pandemic. The government is considering the reopening of critical works in the hydro-power projects, including Punatsangcchu I and Punatsangchhu II, by adhering to the Covid-19 safety protocols.

Tourism, which is the backbone of the Bhutanese economy, would take a few years to crawl back to what it was before the pandemic hit in March. More than 40,000 Bhutanese working in the tourism sector have been affected. Some of them have turned to farming to support their families. The Tourism Council of Bhutan is mulling over the prospects of reviving domestic tourism in a bid to resurrect the ailing sector.

Governability during the pandemic, especially in building economic resilience, is Bhutan’s real test, after having demonstrated steady epidemiological progress in checking the virus.

India: Reinstating the imperative of inner-party democracy

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

The furore over factionalism in the ruling Congress in Rajasthan and the question regarding the leadership of the party at the national-level in recent months has once again made it extremely important to understand the larger issues of inner-party democracy in political parties in the country. India is one of the most vibrant and robust multi-party democracies in the world which has sustained despite all challenges for over seven decades now. And the political parties, like in any other modern democracy, have been the major driver of democratic politics and governmental power in the country.

But interestingly, there are no explicit provisions in the Indian Constitution that lays down guidelines for regulating the conduct of the political parties in India. There is no mention of political parties either in the statute. Only Section 29 (A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 mandates the registration of political parties. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is also not equipped to regulate the functioning of the political parties.

In the case of ‘Indian National Congress vs Institute of Social Welfare & Others’ of 2002, the Supreme Court held that the ECI cannot take punitive action against registered political parties for violating the principles of inner-party democracy. The court, acknowledging the de-registering powers of the registering authority, maintained that the issue of political parties is different from other forms of registration. This makes the regulation of the conduct and functioning of the political parties extremely difficult, reducing the chances of democratic working of parties in the country.

Major challenges

As political parties are the most crucial actors of Indian democracy, their democratic functioning becomes inextricably inter-linked to the health and vibrancy of the former. The lack of democratic functioning of the parties is mainly manifested in two fundamental aspects. First, the procedure for determining the leadership and composition of the parties are not completely open and inclusive. This adversely impacts the constitutional right of all citizens to equal political opportunity to participate in politics and contest elections.

Second, the centralised mode of functioning of the political parties and the stringent   anti-defection law of 1985 deters party legislators from voting in the national and state legislatures according to their individual preferences. The anti-defection legislation requires the elected representatives to strictly follow the party whip during legislative voting. Failure of do so results in the disqualification of their membership from the legislature.

Leadership and composition

In most of the major political parties, the elections to organisational posts at various levels are fraught with challenges. It has been observed that the leadership is mostly decided by a coterie of party functionaries who holds sway over the party administration. Even when elections take place in which the members of the national organisational or decision-making body of the party participate, the pre-determined choice of the party elite is merely supported by the other members.

Most of the times, the elections to leadership positions are uncontested and unanimously decided. In many instances, the ceremonial rubber stamp organisational elections are also held after long intervals with serious irregularities.

The composition of the party elite in the political parties is also a major concern in India. Multiple research findings have suggested that centralised and ambiguous working of the parties that led to distribution of party ticket to certain sections of the population and excluding the rest of the society. Reports suggest that party members with adequate social and financial resources are given primacy while distributing tickets for contesting elections.

Also, a large number of candidates with criminal background as party nominees has come to the forefront in the recent times. The Supreme Court has also taken cognisance of the growing prevalence of ‘criminalisation of politics’ in India. As no legally enforceable mechanism is in place for the parties, the lack of democratic functioning has kept a large section of people from the leadership positions and election nominations for political contests. 

Freedom for legislators 

The democratic spirit is not only found wanting in terms of the representativeness of the party functionaries but also in case of the elected representative of the parties. The Anti-Defection Act of 1985 requires the party legislators to act according to the party whip which is decided by the diktats of the highest party leadership. This Act was brought in place in order to defer unabashed horse trading of lawmakers for breaking and making governments by manipulating legislative majorities. However, the contemporary political scenario vividly suggests that the law has achieved very little in terms of its original intention.

Rather the Act has done further damage to the cause of inner-party democracy as “the obligatory whip that theact imposes on the party legislators compels them to adhere to the directives oftheir party high-command in the legislature. Therefore, the discretional autonomyof the legislators becomes hostage to the whims of the party leadership”. Hence, the elected representatives are likely to remain accountable and answerable to their party leadership and its authority rather than to the electoral constituency which has elected the candidate to the legislature.

Need for political will

Thus, the lack of transparency and accountability in the inner functioning of the political parties in India have serious consequences for the steady functioning of parliamentary democracy in the country. Lack of free and fair internal elections, questionable procedure of distributing party tickets, the lack of information regarding the candidates contesting elections and the murky domain of campaign finance urgently requires a serious public deliberation regarding the increasing need for political party reforms.

As this article has pointed out, there is a number of suggestions on electoral reforms that has been put forward “by several government constituted committees like the Dinesh Goswami Committee, the Tarkunde Committee and Indrajit Gupta Committee, which strongly argued for more transparent working of the political parties in the country. The 1999 Law Commission Report strongly recommended the introduction of a regulatory framework for governing the internal structures and inner party democracy of the political parties. Even, a draft Political Parties (Registration and Regulation of Affairs) Act, 2011 was submitted to the Union Law Ministry.

The draft envisaged the creation of an Executive Committee for every political party whose members would be elected by the members of the local committees of the state units of the party. The latter, in turn, would elect the office-bearers of the party from amongst themselves, without accepting any nomination.

Political parties control the levers of governance in a democracy. So only strong political will emanating from irrefutable electoral demands for inner-party democracy can only lead India towards the process of democratising its political parties.

Country Reports


Peace talks to begin

The Afghan negotiators and the Taliban agreed to begin the long-awaited intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, scheduled to take place on 12 September. The Trump administration welcomed the decision of both parties to engage in talks, and iterated American support for the same. The talks will be held in the presence of US officials, with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled to travel to Qatar to attend the opening ceremony.

Assassination attempt on V-P Saleh

On 9 September, First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh escaped an assassination attempt in the early hours of the morning in Kabul, as his convoy was attacked with a planted roadside bomb. While he managed to remain largely unharmed barring a few minor wounds on his face and hands, the attack claimed at least 10 lives, and left many pedestrians wounded. Some of Saleh’s bodyguards also suffered injuries in the attack and were rushed to the hospital. As the Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, the perpetrators remain unknown.


Hindu widows’ right to inheritance

In a major verdict, the High Court has ruled that the minority Hindu widows are entitled to shares in all properties owned by their late husbands. Earlier, Hindu widows were only entitled to their spouse’s homesteads. Following the verdict, the windows are likely get a share in all their late husband’s assets, including agricultural land.

Chinese vaccine on trial

The clinical trial of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine is likely to begin by the end of this month. The vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Life Sciences Co Ltd will be administered on 4,200 healthcare professionals. The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICCDDR, B) will conduct the human trial of the vaccine in the country.

10 die in ferry mishap

As many as 10 person died and several others are missing in a tragic incident of a ferry capsized in the northern region of the country At least 35 people were on board at the time of the accident. Inland waterways are a major mode of connectivity for the riverine nation. However, the safety of the riverways has been a concern since accidents are common. In June this year, at least 32 people died in a similar accident near the Dhaka.


WHO Declaration on Covid-19

All member-countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region, including Bhutan have signed the Member-States’ Declaration to fight Covid-19 as one on 10 September. The member countries resolved to collectively fight Covid-19 and strengthen the region’s response with better-equipped health systems to deliver essential health services during the pandemic. All the countries in the region also agreed to fully engage in global discussion on equitable allocation of vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for Covid-19.

Pandemic hits exports

Export has reduced drastically this year due to the global pandemic. Economic Affairs Minister Lokenath Sharma said the export has been affected due to lockdowns both in Bhutan and in India. Electricity, minerals such as silicon, gypsum and dolomite and boulders are some of the top commodities that are exported. And most of the commodities are exported to India, where manufacturing units were shut owing to the pandemic. Last year, the country exported commodities including electricity worth over Nu 41 billion while imported about Nu 69 billion worth of commodities.

Covid testing rates, highest

The country is on the path of achieving one of the highest per capita testing rates in the world with the additional RT-PCR laboratory in Dewathang to be set up, Health Minister, Dechen Wangmo has announced.


Five-point pact on border

In a meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow on the side-lines of the SCO Summit on September 10, five points were agreed between the two countries to reduce the ongoing border tensions at the Ladakh border through “principles of disengagement”. Despite some differences on the positions of two countries, now talks are on at the ground commander level and the foreign ministers will review how the border conflict is de-escalating between the two countries.

Covid-19 cases surge

The daily surge in reported Covid-19 cases continues even as the recovery rate is also simultaneously improving in the country. The fourth phase of unlocking has started this month as normal life slowly being restored with adequate precautionary measures. The political parties are also gearing for the Assembly elections in Bihar which is going to be the first major election in the country after the outbreak of the pandemic.


Defence pact with US

In what could be the first of its kind, Maldives has signed a defence agreement with the US, which Pentagon said was aimed at strengthening “alliances in the Indo-Pacific, to counter growing Chinese presence in the region”. The pact was signed by Maldives Defence Minister Mariya Didi and US Reed Verner, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence. Coming as it does in the face of ongoing protests by the Opposition PPM-PNC coalition of jailed former President Abdulla Yameen, focussing especially on ‘foreign military presence’ in the country, the new agreement is likely to become a major political issue nearer home, centred on ‘nationalist concerns’.


EU takes back honour

The European Parliament on 10 September removed Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the "Sakharov Prize community." The EU assembly awarded the former democracy campaigner its top human rights prize in 1990, a year before she received the Nobel Peace Prize, but she will no longer take part in events for laureates. A source close to the parliament said the prize had been awarded for Suu Kyi's work before 1990 so could not be withdrawn, but that this exclusion was the strongest sanction available to MEPs.

Poll campaign hit in Rakhine

Political parties, like the Arakan National Party (ANP) and Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), are unable to commence their electoral campaigns in Rakhine State because of the Covid19 crisis although the Union Election Commission had announced that campaigns could start from 8 September. The entire Rakhine State is under lock down mode. However, campaign in other parts of the country has begun in full swing.


All well in NCP paradise?

The long drawn intra-party division within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) finally seems to end. The recent Standing Committee meeting has zeroed upon the division of responsibilities between the two chairmen -- Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister K. P Oli. As of now, while Dahal will look after the party issues as an executive chairman, Oli will take care of the government affairs. Also, there would be specific guidelines. Hopefully, this step would eventually help the country in the trying times of Covid19.

Airport work on

The country has pinned high hopes on the completion of the Gautam Buddha International Airport, early on. As much as 92.5 per cent of the work has been completed. The project is also using technical labour from China. Often regarded as a national pride, this airport has the potential of presenting the Himalayan country on the global platform with increased footfall.


WHO praise for Covid fight

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised Pakistan, along with six other countries, on its handling of Covid19 pandemic and said the international community should learn from Islamabad. Pakistan used the infrastructure built for eradication of polio to combat the Coronavirus, the WHO pointed out, adding how community workers engaged in door-to-door visits for polio vaccination doubled up as healthcare workers and helped in surveillance, care and contract tracing of Covid19 cases across the country.

‘Spoilers’ to Afghan talks

The Pakistan Army in a statement said that the recent increase in violence on both sides of the Af-Pak border were aimed at derailing the ongoing Afghanistan peace process. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan deserve progress and peace to defeat what it termed as "spoilers", it said further.  The statement came after the intra-Afghan talks were held in Doha from Saturday following the release of six Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government. All the six Taliban men were flown to Doha and will remain under supervision till November.

Sri Lanka

Panel to study 20-A

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has constituted a seven-member committee of the ruling SLPP combine, to study and report back on the draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which was gazetted last fortnight. The committee comprises senior Ministers G L Peiris, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpilla, among others. The development comes in the wake of strong political criticism to the new proposals, which amount to the constitutional retraction of the 18th Amendment, passed during the previous Government of National Unity (GNU), and includes provision for restoring immunity from legal proceedings for the President even after retirement, and powers to dismiss the Prime Minister and his Cabinet and dissolution of Parliament any time after the completion of the first year, as against four-and-half years under 19-A.



Opinion Pieces

Giancarlo Elia Valori, “The Afghan Intelligence Services”, Modern Diplomacy, 8 September 2020

Shubhangi Pandey, “Peace Talks Must Prioritise Inclusivity and Compromise”, Observer Research Foundation, 8 September 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Mysterious Attack”, 9 September 2020

The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Peace Talks and Public Concerns”, 7 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

Shafi Md Mostofa, “Bangladesh’s Ambiguity on Religion Has Been Expensive for the Country”, The Diplomat, 8 September 2020

Selim Raihan, “Covid-19 and the challenges of trade for Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 6 September 2020

Tazrian Alam, “A bad year for RMG”, Dhaka Tribune, 9 September 2020


The Daily StarLivelihoods of indigenous communities under threat”, , 5 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

Office of Consumer Protection- Ministry of Economic Affairs, “OCP clarifies on ‘Reckless and predatory prices of goods’’, Kuensel, 8 September 2020


Kuensel, “For the want of a clear economic plan”, 10 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

Mukul Sanwal, “Realism and the undemarcated border”, The Hindu, 10 September 2020

Bhushan Patwardhan and Pankaj Mittal, “An Academic Bank of Credit will transform Indian education”, hindustantimes, 9 September 2020

Avijit Pathak, “Pandemic has confronted us with the challenge of redefining our role — as friends, communicators and healers”, The Indian Express, 5 September 2020

Lalita Panicker, “Design a safety net for poor urban women”, hindustantimes, 5 September 2020


The Hindu, “Something rotten: On Sushant Singh Rajput death and the media mob”, 11 September 2020

The Telegraph, “Road to hell: Failure of Motor Vehicles Act”, 10 September 2020

The Hindu, “Test by choice: On rising coronavirus cases in India”, 8 September 2020

The Telegraph, “Hope Again: Dr Kafeel Khan released”, 7 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Nasheed, Yameen competing to hurt Solih, India?”,, 10 September 2020

Omkar Kandekar, “Counting the environmental cost of India’s investment in Maldives”, Mint, 7 September 2020

Denis Chaibi, EU Ambassador to Maldives, “Let’s work together for a green recovery”, The Edition, 6 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

Yan Naing, “Despite China’s Wishes, a Canal Across Southern Thailand Is Still a Distant Prospect”, The Irrawaddy, 11 September 2020

Benjamin Harkins, “Better Protection of Myanmar Workers’ Rights Needed Amid COVID-19”, The Irrawaddy, 5 September 2020


The Irrawaddy, “During High-Level Visit, China Takes Note of Myanmar’s ‘High Standards’ on BRI Projects”, 9 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

Sarans Pandey, “Nepal should rethink approaches of combating Covid-19”, Republica, 10 September 2020

Priyasha Maharjan, “The lockdown is a mistake”, Republica, 8 September 2020

Lok Raj Baral, “Foreign policy: Aspirations and realities”, The Kathmandu Post, 6 September 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Monitor glacial lakes”, 8 September 2020


Opinion Pieces

Jawed Naqvi, “To draw the battle lines now”, Dawn, 8 September 2020

F.S. Aijazuddin, “G-20, or G-2?”, Dawn, 10 September 2020

Dr Moonis Ahmar, “Pakistan and the vision of a welfare state, The Express Tribune, 10 September 2020

Syed Mohammad Ali, “Managing implication of US-China rivalry”,The Express Tribune, 10 September 2020

Dr Pervez Tahir, “Trump tells the truth, 10 September 2020

Jawed Naqvi, “To draw the battle lines now”, Dawn, 8 September 2020


Dawn, “ICJ’s scathing review”, 11 September 2020

The Express Tribune, “Spoilers at work”, 10 September 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Kumar David, “Trapped between a rock and a hard place”, The Island, 13 September 2020

Prof G L Peiris, Minister for Education, “Why the hurry about 20-A?”, The Island, 13 September 2020

Dr Jayanth Jayasuriya, “A move towards a new paradigm shift”, The Island, 13 September 2020

M S M Ayub, “Manifestation of a crisis in political culture”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 September 2020

Neville Laduwahetty, “Foreign relations in the context of geo-politics”, The Island, 10 September 2020

Malinda Seneviratne, “Yasmin Sooka: Programmed to ‘believe’, or victim of a ‘truth’ factory?”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 September 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Undoing the wrongs of 19-A”, Ceylon Today, 8 September 2020

Lasada Kurukulasuriya, “Foreign Relations: Is ‘neutrality’ compatible with ‘India first’?”, Daily Mirror Online, 8 September 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “What is wrong with the Tamil polity”, Colombo Gazette, 7 September 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

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