Freedom in the World
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Bhutan’s new elected legislature passed several new laws in 2009, and declared an end to strict enforcement of cultural traditions such as the national dress code. While several thousand Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees who were displaced in the 1990s have been resettled in other countries in recent years, 95,000 remain in camps in Nepal.
The new elected political institutions were relatively active in 2009, passing bills related to local governance, tobacco sales, and the police. In July, the National Assembly declared that Driglam Namzha (traditional etiquette) would no longer be strictly enforced, instead stipulating that cultural traditions such as the national dress code would be sustained through education alone.
Bhutan is not an electoral democracy, though the 2008 elections represented a significant step toward that status. A European Union (EU) monitoring team reported that the National Assembly elections “generally met international standards,” although it noted problems with freedom of expression and association during the campaign. The new constitution provides for a bicameral Parliament, with a 25-seat upper house, the nonpartisan National Council, and a 47-seat lower house, the National Assembly, both serving five-year terms. The king appoints five members of the National Council, and the remaining 20 are elected; the lower house is entirely elected, and the head of the majority party is nominated by the king to serve as prime minister. The cabinet is nominated by the king and approved by the National Assembly. The king remains the head of state and appoints members of the Supreme Court, the attorney general, and the heads of national commissions. He can return legislation to the government with objections or amendments, but once it has been reconsidered and resubmitted, the king must sign it into law.