The world’s only Buddhist kingdom conducted its first democratic elections March 25. Bhutan’s 2.3 million residents cast their votes for parliamentary representation after living under the rule of the Wangchuk hereditary dynasty since 1907.
The Bhutan United Party claimed a landslide victory in the elections. The newly elected officials will form the National Council, which will set in motion the creation of a constitution and the platform for a Democratic government.
Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan says it is still too early to tell if the yet-to-be created government will allow true freedom of religion.
“Of course, we are praying that Bhutan’s first constitution will allow true freedom of religion,” Yohannan said. “These precious people deserve the opportunity to hear the Gospel and to know that there is a God in heaven who loves them and a Savior who died for them.”
At present, it is illegal to share the Gospel in Bhutan, and missionaries are limited to supplying humanitarian aid, as long as they do not talk about their faith. GFA has had work in the country since 1995.
Less than one percent of Bhutan’s population professes to follow Christ. Believers can be expelled from the country and stripped of their citizenship if their new faith is discovered.
Bhutan is a small, impoverished and isolated country in the Himalayas. It shares borders with India, Bangladesh and China. Under the rule of former King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the country largely eschewed the modernization that much of the world now takes for granted. Foreign tourists were not allowed into Bhutan until 1974, and limited television and Internet services were only introduced in 1999. The country even has its own legal dress code.
In spite of what the Western world would see as a chokehold of control by the monarchy, the people of Bhutan hold their king and his family in high regard. It was King Wangchuk himself who implemented what he labeled a plan of “cautious modernization” during his reign. In 2006 he abdicated the throne to his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, a 27-year old graduate of England’s Oxford University. The current king and his father encouraged the citizens to vote in this week’s election.
Christian leaders ask for prayer for Bhutan and its newly elected officials. They ask for specific prayer that the new officials would allow true freedom of religion in the country. Prayer is also requested for the GFA missionaries who have done pioneering work in the country.