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Of the year gone by

The dog’s done the barking and the new dawn is upon us. Looking back, what events and milestones marked 2018?

As a small nation, diplomacy reigned supreme. Strong and sustained foreign relations and close interaction with immediate neighbours is the key to Bhutan’s success. Never has this been more relevant than today when the world is “broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls” born of dangerously destructive go-it-alone politics.

As the world beyond rumbled on plagued by war, disease, famine and disasters man-made and natural, Bhutan continued to enjoy stability and progress in the climate of unprecedented peace. There were ebbs and flows – we had our share of ups and downs for sure – but we sailed through unruffled. For Bhutan and the Bhutanese, the long and trying hours of intermittent challenges weren’t the dark days of the soul.

In the world divided by changing global realities, Bhutan-India relation stands as the shining example of successful cooperation. His Majesty The King granted audience to India’s foreign secretary, Vijay K. Gokhale. Bhutan and India reviewed and updated several areas of development cooperation, including hydropower projects and trade, golden jubilee celebration of diplomatic relation between the two countries. Most significant of all, Vijay K. Gokhale’s visit reinforced regular high-level exchanges between Bhutan and India.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visited India from July 5 to 7 and discusses issues of mutual interests with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While acknowledging the “excellent state of bilateral relations” India reiterated her commitment to Bhutan’s socioeconomic development and extended full support for Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan.  The two countries recognised the importance of continued hydropower cooperation for mutual benefit.

Bhutan and Japan discussed the need to further strengthen the existing collaboration in agriculture, infrastructure, human resources development, health, education, information technology, rural development and employment, among others. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay thanked the government and the people of Japan for the friendship and generous assistance for a successful implementation of the 11th Plan.

Bhutan has achieved remarkable progress since the first Plan. The economic development that Bhutan witnessed over the decades has been nothing short of exemplary. From a poor, least developed nation, Bhutan is today prepared to graduate to the group of middle-income countries. Considering Bhutan’s graduation from least developed country (LDC) happens in 2021, it would be historic because it would also be 50th anniversary of the country’s membership with the United Nations. What this means is Bhutan now has access to better health care and education among others and her national earning power is growing. Graduation would also mean that Bhutan could lose preferential access to markets mainly in developed economies in the transition period. However, Bhutan has not much to worry. Bhutan’s trade scenario would be largely unaffected because Bhutan doesn’t have much trade with the US or Europe.

As a fiercely environment-conscious and high-end tourist destination, 2018 saw Bhutan receive the Earth Award at a ceremony in ITB (International Tourism Bourse) in Berlin, Germany. The award recognises tourism destinations that are working towards developing sustainable and responsible tourism.

The year of the dog was a busy year, particularly for the election commission. Aimed at making elections more inclusive, ECB introduced postal ballot facilitation booths. The commission set up 69 facilitation booths across the country for the National Council (NC) election. The commission also operated mobile facilitation booths for some 800 people with special needs. Tashi Dorji, 36, from Wangdue, got elected as the chair of the House. His Majesty The King granted dhar to the new NC members at Tashichhodzong.

Preparing for the National Assembly elections, His Majesty The King appointed interim government to ensure uninterrupted continuance of the routine functions of the government until the new prime minister entered office.

Perhaps the biggest event of 2018, National Assembly election saw party candidates debate on important national issues. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa won 30 constituencies against Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s 17. His Majesty The King issued a Kasho to Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa president, Dr Lotay Tshering, appointing him as the prime minister and later conferred Dakyen to Cabinet ministers, Speaker, and the Opposition Leader.

A nation needs a reference point. How would it measure her success and failures otherwise? At long last, after 12 years, Bhutan got her population and housing censes report. PHCB 2017, the second in series, will prove significantly important for planning development projects in the country Bhutan’s biggest Plan yet. The 12th Plan will largely be informed by the report. According to the report, Bhutan’s population is now 735,553.

In a country deeply steeped in culture and tradition, the roles of the regions and religious bodies have always been important. They inform the lives of the nation and her people. For long and dedicated service to the nation, His Majesty The King conferred the highest civilian decoration in the country, the Order of The Druk Gyalpo, to His Holiness the Je Khenpo Trulku Ngawang Jigme Chhoedra.

As Earth Dog makes way for Earth Hog, the nation and the people have much to reflect on and look ahead.

Jigme Wangchuk

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