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Chhoetse Penlop: The fifth Druk Gyalpo in 2008
A new moment in history

His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck will be enthroned as the fifth Druk Gyalpo in 2008.

A shocked nation has received this news in stunned silence. While the Bhutanese population has already welcomed the idea of His Royal Highness succeeding His Majesty the King, the nation could not fathom the concept of His Majesty himself stepping down in this short period.

As His Majesty the King announced this extraordinary decision in the remote dzongkhag of Trashiyangtse on December 17, the unprecedented crowd of more than 8,000 farmers, herders, gomchhen, teachers and students, and civil servants, who had gathered to celebrate National Day with the royal family fell into a bewildered silence.

They had waited a long time for this day and men, women, and children had walked over the steep paths for days to meet the royal family. Now they had seen and heard far more than they had expected.

His Majesty also explained that, as it was necessary and important for a King to gain as much experience as possible to serve his country to his fullest capacity, the responsibilities of the Throne would be delegated to the Chhoetse Penlop before 2008.

"It is my wish and prayer that, during the reign of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Palden Drukpa will remain strong and glorious, that our country will achieve greater prosperity with the sun of peace and happiness shining on our people, that all the national objectives of the country and the hopes and aspirations of our people will be fulfilled, and the Bhutanese people will enjoy a greater level of contentment and happiness," His Majesty said.

His Majesty also reminded the people that the Constitution was being introduced with the highest importance being given to establishing a new political system that would ensure the security and sovereignty of the nation and the interest and kidu of the people. His Majesty said that, over the next two years, the Election commission would educate the people in the process of parliamentary democracy and electoral practice sessions will be conducted in all the 20 dzongkhags. His Majesty said that the first national election to elect a government under a system of parliamentary democracy would take place in 2008.

His Majesty and the royal family served tokha to the public of Trashiyangtse and spent the day with the people, taking part in traditional games like khuru, sogsum, and jigdum. Students and local artists performed mask and folk dances and sang local songs. In the spirit of the celebrations His Majesty the King and the royal family took part in a tug-of-war contest against local government leaders and public. Many people told Kuensel that they could not even begin to describe their good fortunes on such a day. It was like a dream.

For the older generation in Trashiyangtse, one of the most remote dzongkhags, the past two decades has been a dream in terms of the development process. Yangtsips like 57-year old Sangay Dorji of Womenang have watched the dzongkhag transform in an incredibly short time. "This is a new Trashiyangtse," he said. "Not long ago, we had to walk for days even to buy salt," he said. "Today Trashiyangtse has a hospital, seven basic health units, 26 outreach clinics, 2,605 households connected with piped drinking water, 16 community schools, seven primary schools, one middle secondary, two lower secondary, and one higher secondary school."

The latest dzongkhag to be connected by motor road, Trashiyangtse also has a total of about 90 kilometres of farm, feeder, and municipal roads and a ring road is under construction. The dzongkhag has 18 suspension, suspended and bailey bridges, 127 telephone connections, banks, post offices, and 200 cable TV connections. According to the Trashiyangtse Dzongda, Dorji Norbu, the national census conducted this year showed a resident population of 17,623 people in the dzongkhag.

As one 16-year old student described it, Trashiyangtse was a backward land of Dapas and Phops. Not any more. "We will be a modern generation of professionals and there's no looking back," he said. "In the future, there should be no difference between Trashiyangtse and the other dzongkhags." Most Bhutanese agree with this view of Bhutan's phenomenal transformation from a feudal society into a modern nation.

For the people of Trashiyangtse, therefore, the presence of His Majesty and the royal family among them carried a special significance. As the National Day celebration concluded, the haunting strains of the tashi-lebey seemed to waft far beyond Trashiyangtse valley, conveying a new message into a new time.

Like thousands of other Yangtsips, 69-year old Chuni Zangmo of Jamkhar village had locked her house and her entire family walked two days to the celebration ground. His Majesty the King's portrait that hung on her wall, protected by an aged silk scarf, had always been the family's prized possession. They now had been given the opportunity to meet His Majesty in person. When His Majesty came near her, she closed her eyes and prayed for his long and happy life.

"I was shattered when I first heard him but I somehow believe that His Majesty will always be with us," she told , through her tears. "Things may change but His Majesty will still be here." It was the first reaction that many people shared after hearing His Majesty's address. "I cried when I heard him," said 60-year old Aum Tendi of Toetsho village. "I don't understand what is happening but I will not give up hope."

Sitting together and watching the celebrations, Kezang and his friends believe that there will not be another day like December 17, 2005, for the people of Yangtse which was made a separate dzongkhag in 1992. They spoke in hushed tones as they confirmed with each other what they had heard that day. This country has been pleading with His Majesty the King not to step down at the age of 65 years," Kezang told Kuensel. "Now we have to plead with him to continue to reign until he is at least 65 years."

For a former gup of Bomdeling, it was heartbreaking news. "I feel that the sun is already setting on us," he said, as he packed his pony to walk home. "2008 is too early. Many of us feel that His Majesty should reign for another 20 years."

Not long after the announcement Bhutanese citizens were calling each other across the length and breadth of the country in disbelief. "This is something that human history has not witnessed before," said a resident of Thimphu who called Kuensel to confirm the news. "It might be momentous news for others but it is a cause for profound sadness for us in Bhutan."

By the end of the day, however, people were also sensing the silver lining in the cloud. High school student Sangay Dorji's parents were deeply disturbed but the young boy expressed surprising wisdom. "Our King is our father," he said. "A father will always remain a father and he can never neglect his children. I don't think we have anything to regret."

One common belief was that the people of Bhutan had every reason to trust the decisions of His Majesty the King no matter how devastating they might sound.

"I might be just trying to console myself," said a teacher in Paro, talking to Kuensel on December 18. "But I have decided that I will have faith in the royal decision. So far we have not been disappointed." His colleague agreed that it would be fascinating to look ahead now and see what would happen. "We will see wisdom unfold," she said.

Eighty-one-year old Tashi spends his summers circumambulating the Kurje Lhakhang in Bumthang and his winters sitting by the fire in his son's shop. "My generation has seen one wise King succeeded by a wiser King," he said. "We should not forget that Chhoetse Penlop is His Majesty's son," he said. "His Majesty's vision will continue to shine through him. In fact it is good that he will receive guidance even as he reigns.

According to 30-year old Tashi Wangchuk of Bomdeling it was now time for the young generation to take Bhutan forward into a new era of development. "It is a challenge and we must support the new Druk Gyalpo."

Ugyen Norbu of Yalang believes that His Majesty is delegating the responsibility to the Crown Prince because His Majesty has trust in the capability of the Crown Prince. "His Majesty, who has reigned since the age of 16 years, knows what he is doing," he said. "Sons have taken over their father's responsibilities as far back as we can imagine. We must now also start handing over our responsibilities to our children."

Bhutanese men and women across the country, old and young, agree that the magnitude of His Majesty's announcement on National Day 2005 has left them in a deep shock and more than a little dazed. With their emotions disturbed it will be some time before they are able to find the clarity of thought to understand its implications. As a first step, however, many people have understood that it is time to wake up to new realities.

After all it is a royal command and, according to traditional wisdom, a royal command has always been heavier than the mountains, more precious than gold.

Trashiyangtse, December 17, 2005

Contributed by Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper 2005
December 14, 2006
His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk said that the responsibilities of the Throne would be delegated to the Chhoetse Penlop before 2008. His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck will be enthroned as the fifth Druk Gyalpo in 2008.
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