Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the Fifth King of Bhutan (born 1980) took over the leadership of the country when his father abdicated in 2006 and was coronated in a ceremony on November 1, 2008, the year that marks the 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan. As king, he oversaw the implementation of the Constitution of Bhutan and Bhutan’s first elections. Like his father, who was also king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is popular at home and overseas. He and his common queen have traveled extensively internationally and raised the profile of Bhutan as well as making it into gossip magazines. [Source:]

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated the throne in 2006 in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. In 2008, Bhutan held its first parliamentary election in accordance with the constitution. Bhutan experienced a peaceful turnover of power following a parliamentary election in 2013, which resulted in the defeat of the incumbent party. In 2018, the incumbent party again lost the parliamentary election. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Alastair Lawson of the BBC wrote: Jigme Khesar is the fifth in a line of hereditary rulers who have reigned in Bhutan for the last 100 years. He was 26 when he became king and 28 when he was crowned, making him one of the youngest monarchs in the world. “But despite his relative youth, the Bhutanese king was not thrown in at the deep end when he came to the throne in November 2008. His father Jigme Singye Wangchuck — who himself acceded to the throne when aged only 16 — took great pains to ensure that his son was prepared to take over before his abdication. [Source: Alastair Lawson, BBC News, October 13, 2011]

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “Wangchuck’s father, the country’s revered fourth king, introduced to the world the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the idea that spiritual and mental well-being matter as much as money, and that material gain should not come at the expense of the environment or culture. Then, in 2006, he used his absolute power to force democracy on his adoring and reluctant people, before abdicating in favor of his son, a move that looks ever more visionary as the years go by. The country’s first elections and the young king’s coronation followed two years later. It was a tough act for the young son to follow, but he has more than lived up to the task, observers say. Where the father is reserved and austere, the son is warm, natural and engaging. While the elder king’s subjects would not dream of looking him in the eye, they find themselves laughing and joking with the son. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 13, 2011]

AFP reported: “The young monarch known variously as K5 — the fifth king — and the "prince charming of the Himalayas", has emerged from the shadow of his revered father and inspires almost as much devotion from his 700 000 subjects. “The fifth king in a short space of time has performed exceedingly well," parliamentary opposition leader Tshering Tobgay told AFP. "He has walked the length and breadth of the country and met nearly every citizen." Such praise is commonplace on the streets of the capital Thimphu. [Source: Sapa, AFP, October 12, 2011]

Early Life and Family of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Khesar is the eldest son of the fourth Dragon King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and his third wife, Queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon. He has a younger sister, Princess Ashi Dechen Yangzom, and brother, Prince Gyaltshab Jigme Dorji, as well as four half-sisters and three half-brothers. All of his father's wives are sisters. [Source: Wikipedia, BBC]

After attending school in India and Yangchenphug High School in Bhutan, Khesar studied at Phillips Academy Andover, Cushing Academy and Wheaton College in the United States and graduated from Magdalen College, University of Oxford, where he earned a degree in political science and economics completed the Foreign Service Programme and International Relations. At Wheaton College in Massachusetts he played varsity basketball.

AFP reported that at Oxford University, fellow students remember him as someone serious about his studies. “He didn't go to social occasions that much, but he had friends," one fellow student told AFP."He was very much the same sort of person as you see now as king: solid and reliable." [Source: Sapa, AFP, October 12, 2011]

When Khesar was Crown Prince, the people of Bhutan called him 'Dasho Khesar'. He accompanied his father on his many tours throughout the Kingdom to meet and talked with many Bhutanese. He also officially represented Bhutan on several trips abroad. international events. He represented Bhutan at a United Nations General Assembly in 2002 and made his first speech there, addressing the issue of child welfare. He attended Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 60th Anniversary Celebrations in June 2006. At the age of 26 he was the youngest of the visiting royals and captured the hearts of many female fans in Thailand. The Thai press dubbed him "Prince Charming" and covered his every move. His performance also won him praise at home where the local press credited him with acting with "diplomacy, charm and diplomatic finesse."

Abdication of Jigme Singye Wangchuck and Transfer of Power to Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

The fourth Dragon King of Bhutan,Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated the throne in 2006 in favor of his son, fifth Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.. Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated when he was 50 years old, with no apparent health issues, and was still alive as of 2021. His father, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also abdicated (in 1972) but he did so a few months before he died when he know his time about up.

According to the Bhutan government Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated because he was “satisfied that Bhutan's democratization process was well in train” and abdicated “rather than wait until the promulgation of the new constitution in 2008.” According to Associated Press: “The elder Wangchuck announced he was abdicating in favor of his Oxford-educated son as part of reforms yielding much of the monarchy's power and transforming the country into a democracy....With so much faith being placed on guidance from the monarchy,” the abdication process has “been somewhat bewildering for Bhutan after the elder Wangchuck announced he was giving up much of the monarchy's power to transform the nation into a democracy. Under his reforms the king remains the head of state and will continue to have extensive powers, but Parliament can impeach him with a two-thirds majority. They hope the new king will follow the ways of his gentle-spoken, much-loved father.”

The transfer of power took place in a step by step fashion. In June 2002, the Crown Prince Khesar (the future fifth king) was awarded the Red Scarf by his father. In October 2004, Khesar was installed as the 16th Trongsa Penlop in Trongsa Dzong. The Trongsa Penlop was started by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, in 1647. It was also the position held by the first Dragon King, Ugyen Reign (1907–1926), Khesar’s great-great grandfather. Trongsa Penlop signifies the true heritage to the Bhutanese Throne. the investiture ceremony for the Trongsa Penlop signifies the formal declaration of of the Crown Prince.

In December 2005, the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced his intention to abdicate in his favor of his son with the coronation taking place in 2008, with his son — Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck — taking over responsibilities immediately. In December 2006, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck issued a Royal Edict announcing his abdication, and the transfer of the throne to Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The formal coronation took place two years later as it did when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s father abdicated in 1972 and the coronation took place in 1974

Coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was officially crowned on November 6, 2008, in Punakha, capital of Bhutan until 1955 and the home of the Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness or Punakha Dzong), constructed under Bhutan’s founder Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1637. Religious ceremonies and public celebrations were also held at Tashichhoedzong, a Buddhist monastery and fortress that serves as the seat of government, and Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu.

The coronation ceremony comprised an ancient and colourful ritual, attended by thousands of foreign dignitaries, including the then-President of India, Pratibha Patil. CNN reported that, to welcome Khesar as King of Bhutan, people painted street signs, hung festive banners and decorated traffic circles with fresh flowers. The equivalent of being crowned what when the king received white, yellow, red, green, and blue silk scarves.

Gavin Rabinowitz of Associated Press wrote: Bhutan crowned its new king after a two-year wait for the precise moment deemed most auspicious for a successful reign. At exactly 8:31 a.m., former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, 52, placed the Raven Crown on the head of his son, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, giving him the title of Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King. Although the son has been effectively acting as king since December 2006, the coronation was delayed as court astrologers waited for an auspicious date. The ceremony was seen as deeply reassuring for the last independent Himalayan Buddhist kingdom — once one of the most cut off, tightly controlled places on earth, but now slowly opening up to the uncertainties of modernity and vagaries of democracy. [Source: Gavin Rabinowitz, Associated Press, November 6, 2008]

“Tens of thousands of people came from all over the country for the coronation, including nomadic yak herders who trekked for days from the icy Himalayan mountains of northern Bhutan and members of the Hindu minority who came from the subtropical south. Thimphu, the capital, was decorated with bright lights and multicolored banners for the three days of festivities.

Coronation Ceremony of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Gavin Rabinowitz of Associated Press wrote: “Conducted in the Tashichho Dzong, a massive 17th century white-walled fortress that serves both as administrative headquarters and a monastic center, the ceremony was an elaborate display of pageantry mingled with sacred Buddhist rituals. [Source: Gavin Rabinowitz, Associated Press, November 6, 2008]

“After being greeted by troupes of brightly clad dancers, who whirled through the frigid morning air to the sounds of drums, cymbals and trumpets, the royal family, heads of government and the chief abbot went up to the throne room. There, the new king received his satin and silk crown topped with an embroidered raven's head from his father before taking his seat on the intricately carved golden throne. The new king then walked through an honor guard, past three four-story-high banners depicting the lives of Buddha and the gurus who brought the faith to Bhutan, to a temple on the other side of the fortress.

“Led by the Je Khenbo, head of the Bhutanese Buddhists, dignitaries placed offerings of fruit, wine and food before the king and eight objects — including the umbrella of supremacy and the fish of wisdom — symbolizing the virtues a good king should have. Later in the day he was to re-enact much of the ceremony in front of thousands of citizens who gathered at a large amphitheater next to the fortress. "This ceremony, it's not just about crowning a prince," said Tinle Tenzin, 39, who owns a shoe shop in Thimphu. "It is about a new king who we hope will bring much good for the country and the people in the future."

King Jigme Khesar Character and Interests

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is said to be a decent basketball player and archer and an avid mountain biker (but it’s his father that’s really into that) and an Elvis fan like his half mother. He lives in modest cottage and is famous for inviting his subjects to tea. Among those who were invited in the early 2010s were members of the Thimphu weight-lifting club. [Source: Adam Plowright, AFP, September 12, 2011]

Alistair Scrutton of Reuters wrote in 2011: “The 31-year-old monarch is known as the “people’s king” for his relaxed manner with his subjects, and — sporting sideburns and swept-back hair — he is a pin-up for many teenage girls as far away as Thailand. He has spent months touring Bhutan’s remote villages — often walking among villagers holding his bride-to-be by the hand. But while an older generation will bow and refuse to look their king in the eye, a younger generation is happy to converse with their monarch. [Source: Alistair Scrutton, Reuters, October 13, 2011]

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “To the constant exasperation of his security detail, the young king never misses the chance to mix with people at public events, playing barefoot soccer with schoolchildren or hugging and comforting an old woman so overcome at seeing him that she burst into tears. His looks once earned him the nickname “Prince Charming” when mobbed by female admirers on a trip to Thailand. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 13, 2011

“A U.S. Embassy cable in 2005 released by WikiLeaks revealed he not only held a “very positive opinion” of the United States but was also a fan of the NBA and the Philadelphia 76ers. After a couple of games with the embassy basketball team, the political officer at the time said he was “a natural two-guard,” had a good shot and ball control, and was “quick enough to drive the lane to score.” He’s also a fan of Elvis Presley and was occasionally known to impersonate the singer at karaoke performances in his youth. These days he is an accomplished artist and photographer, according to his official biography,” an interest he shares with his wife “who is described as “passionate about fine arts and painting.”“

Love and Romance for King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

When King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married Jetsun Pema in 2011 it was a love marriage between a couple who had already been living together for eight months. “I am happy. I have been waiting quite some time,” the king said after his wedding ceremony. “She is a wonderful human being, intelligent. Her and I share one big thing in common — love and passion for art... I have been waiting for quite some time to get married. But it doesn’t matter when you get married as long as it is to the right person. I am certain I am married to the right person.” [Source: Alistair Scrutton, Reuters, October 13, 2011]

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “Wangchuck’s father had four wives — four sisters he married in a mass ceremony — in a country where polygamy was not unusual. The third sister gave birth to the present king Although the fourth king’s wives always walked a step or two behind him, the younger Wangchuck holds”Pema’s “hand everywhere they go and has scandalized traditionalists by kissing her on the cheek in public. “The fourth king was another world, another time, but this is another generation, another country,” said Francoise Pommaret, an ethnologist, historian, author and expert on Bhutan. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 13, 2011]

“The royal secretariat likes to portray Pema as a commoner. In one version of events, the two met at a picnic when she was 7 and he was 17; she reportedly came up to him and gave him a hug. But what is less publicly celebrated are her family’s long-standing contacts with the royal family in a country where a small elite has long had a tight hold on power: Her paternal great-grandfather was lord of the eastern province of Tashigang, and her maternal grandfather was the half-brother of the wife of Bhutan’s second king. The king also dated Pema’s cousin while studying at Oxford. The announcement of the nuptials broke the hearts of the monarch's many admirers. The "prince charming of the Himalayas" was once mobbed on a trip to Thailand by weeping teenagers on one of his rare official foreign trips.

Wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

In October 2011, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married Jetsun Pema, a student and commoner 10 years younger than him, in a royal wedding that was biggest media event in Bhutan’s history. The ceremony was held in front of 300 or so Bhutanese VIPs. No foreign VIPs or royals from other places were invited.

The Telegraph reported: “The hugely popular king wed Jetsun Pema, the daughter of an airline pilot, in a colourful Buddhist ceremony at a 17th-century fortified monastery in the ancient capital of Punakha. Set between two rivers and accessible by footbridge, the stunning building contains the remains of a Tibetan holy man said to be the founder of modern Bhutan. Proceedings were beamed live across the staunchly royalist but isolated country of 700,000 people, who, decked out in national dress,” who marked “the occasion with dancing, singing and drinking over three days of public holiday. [Source: The Telegraph, October 12, 2011]

Adam Plowright of AFP wrote: “Organizers promised a low-key affair from a royal family that is famed for its common touch, but the Bhutanese” geared “up to mark a momentous occasion.” The fortress and monastery in Punakha is a giant building “ intricately decorated with wall paintings and carvings” and “spruced up for the occasion, with work in the gardens and fresh paint in evidence. “His Majesty has been consistent all along that the events should be simple and traditional. It’s how he operates in his own life,” royal spokesman Dorji Wangchuck said. “He has never been in favor of extravaganzas,” the spokesman said, adding that no foreign royals or heads of state had been invited. [Source: Adam Plowright, AFP, September 12, 2011]

Alistair Scrutton of Reuters wrote: “The ceremony was broadcast live. Thousands of people, dressed in traditional colored robes, stood outside. Some monks chanted, others hit drums, as white incense drifted through the morning mist. As the mist slowly lifted, Buddhist horns sounded across the Punakha valley as the bride arrived in a procession of singers, relatives and Buddhist monks across an ancient footbridge, all led by a white horse. Baby elephants guarded one of the fortress’s entrances. After his wedding, the king walked around thousands of many villagers who waited outside the fortress, patting children on the head and shaking hands in gestures unheard from previous monarchs. [Source: Alistair Scrutton, Reuters, October 13, 2011]

Wedding Ceremony of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

During the ceremony, the King also received the Crown of Druk Gyaltsuen (Queen) and bestowed it on Jetsun Pema, thus proclaiming her formally as the Queen of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Alistair Scrutton of Reuters wrote: Bhutan’s “Dragon King” married a young commoner in an ancient Himalayan monastic fortress, sipping a chalice of ambrosia symbolizing eternal life in a Buddhist wedding that has transfixed a reclusive kingdom slowly embracing globalization. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck wore a crown adorned with a raven’s head during the sumptuous ceremony as 21-year-old student Jetsun Pema received a crown embroidered with silk. [Source: Alistair Scrutton, Reuters, October 13, 2011]

“The king and his father entered a sacred chamber holding the embalmed body of the 17th-century remains of Bhutan’s founder, where they received holy Buddhist scarves and a chalice of blessed curd that represents eternal life. The king’s father, accompanied by his four wives, handed the blessed colored scarves to a nervous-looking bride. “I am a very happy man today,” said Kesang Chopel, 41, a Buddhist saffron-robed monk who watched the couple’s arrival in Bhutan’s former ancient capital. “There is the king, and there are so many masters here, lamas. There is a special feeling.”

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “In a small, private ceremony mixing Buddhist spirituality and medieval tradition,Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck solemnly placed an embroidered silk brocade crown on the head of his beautiful but slightly nervous-looking bride. He then sat back down on the Golden Throne and placed his Raven Crown on his own head, his new wife sitting to his left and a giant golden Buddha towering behind them.

“Earlier, in the most sacred part of the ceremony, the king, his father and the country’s chief abbot, the Je Khenpo, had sought the blessings of the Shabdrung Namgyel, a lama who unified the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in the 17th century and whose embalmed body is preserved in a small chamber within the fortress, or dzong. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 13, 2011

“Access to the chamber is so restricted that not even the royal bride was allowed to enter. Instead, she prayed and prostrated herself in an outer chamber before the king’s father emerged to place around her neck five scarves blessed by the Shabdrung, and presented her with a golden chalice containing curd that had been transformed into holy ambrosia. Later, the ceremony moved to the throne room where she prostrated herself before the king himself. She then presented him with the cup of ambrosia from which he sipped, before crowning her. Monks chanted blessings for the royal couple while long trumpets droned and offerings were made for their well-being and long life.

Enthusiasm and Celebrations Over 2011 Royal Wedding in Bhutan

Nomadic yak and animal herders, who spend of the year in the higher the mountains, joined and farmers dressed in ceremonial clothes who walked down from the hills and valleys to the fortress, where the royal wedding took place. “It's a big day for all Bhutanese," 32-year-old housewife Tshering Lhamo told The Telegraph. "Everyone loves the king and for my generation we have never seen a royal wedding before." [Source: The Telegraph, October 12, 2011]

Alistair Scrutton of Reuters wrote: Posters of the couple adorn almost every building, lamppost and roundabout in the capital, Thimphu, three hours drive away. School children have published poems in the queen’s honor, calling her “the moon, a beautiful heroine and the lotus flower. Monks have held dawn prayer sessions in remote mountain valleys and Bhutan’s airline has had to add extra flights to deal with the demand of visitors from abroad. [Source: Alistair Scrutton, Reuters, October 13, 2011]

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: The ceremony kicked off three days of celebration...In the afternoon, thousands of people gathered by the side of the white-walled dzong or fortress of Punakha, where the king was entertained by traditional dances. As usual, he spent much more time mingling with wedding guests and ordinary Bhutanese people than sitting still and listening to the entertainment.

The main celebration was held in Thimphu, three days after the official wedding and members of the public got the opportunity to glimpse the newlyweds in a ceremony at the city’s sports stadium, a spectacle that featured traditional dance and music. The Telegraph reported: Security is tight, with phone networks jammed and police enforcing strict controls on vehicles in a wide area surrounding the monastery. Two small bombs went off in a town on the border with India injuring four people, in attacks claimed by an insurgent group based in Nepal fighting for the rights of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan. [Source: The Telegraph, October 12, 2011]

Making Traditional Clothes for Wedding of the Bhutan King

About a month before the royal wedding, Adam Plowright of AFP wrote: The royal dress weavers are at work and excitement is building in Bhutan ahead of the royal wedding. In their apartment in Thimphu, weavers Kelzang Choden and her mother are hurriedly working on an outfit for the future queen, an intricately patterned dress of geometric shapes dominated by gold thread and yellow. “She will wear according to her element. There are five elements in our culture. For example, red is fire and earth is yellow,” Choden said. “Her element is earth so it will probably be mostly yellow.” [Source: Adam Plowright, AFP, September 12, 2011]

“Pema, 21, has ordered numerous kira, the elegant national dress for women made from raw silk that takes months to finish and can cost up to US$3,000. Several famed weavers are competing for the honor of clothing her on the big day. “It would be the biggest privilege,” said Choden, whose mother Kuenzang Wangmo has designed outfits for the previous king and his four wives, as well as the younger sister of the present king.

“At The Traditional Boot House in Thimphu, manager Tshering Tobgay says average daily orders have doubled since the king announced his intention to marry in May. Tobgay and his half-dozen team are working frantically in a bid to clear the backlog for their colorful knee-length boots which are worn on special occasions. “Everyone is working overtime until 9 to 10pm at night,” he said.

Jetsun Pema, Queen of Bhutan

The daughter of an airline pilot, Jetsun Pema was a 21-year-old student and commoner, 10 years younger than the king, when she married King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in 2011 and became queen of Bhutan. “She is a wonderful human being. Intelligent,” the king told reporters after their wedding. “She and I share one big thing in common, a love and passion for art.”

The Telegraph reported in 2011: “Few people know much about their future queen, save for some details about her competitiveness on the basketball court, her tender age and her striking looks. Pema, who studied in London and is pursuing a degree in international relations, is admired for her beauty and the apparent impact she has had on the king, who talks often of his love for her, even holding her hand at public functions. [Source: The Telegraph, October 12, 2011]

According to AFP: Pema introduced to the public in May 2011 “and has since discreetly joined the monarch on his domestic trips, most recently to earthquake victims in the west of the country. Her face adorns a thousand posters, commemorative plates and badges that have been made to mark the occasion and her demure looks have apparently won over the public. “I don't know that much about her, but she's beautiful," said Zhung Chuck, a 23-year-old business student. "His Majesty chose the right one." “He really loves her," said 16-year-old schoolgirl Jurme Choden. "Wherever he goes he holds her hand. Now young people are starting to copy."

“The royal couple apparently met when aged 17 and seven respectively at a family picnic in Thimphu. The then-prince got down on his knees and said "when you grow up, if I am single and not married and if you are single and not married, I would like you to be my wife, provided we still feel the same," he told students in August.

“The principal of Lungtenzampa secondary school, Kinley Pem, taught both the king and the future queen at different times. She remembers Pema, who has two brothers and two sisters, as an accomplished captain of the school basketball team and someone who won prizes for public speaking. “She doesn't have any airs. I think she didn't even dream of becoming a queen," the school principal told AFP. Her future role is likely to be doing charity work and, it is hoped, looking after the heir to the throne once the couple have children.

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: Pema come from a family that “has long known the royals” despite being depicted as commoners. The fact that her “family comes from the country’s elite and is of seemingly impeccable character helped smooth the way, as did the royal astrologers’ views on their compatibility. Pema seems to have “some of the same charm” as he husband, “signing autographs for children after the ceremony, smiling and greeting reporters before saying she had “to be with my husband now.” Wangchuck said he was very proud of how she had handled herself” at the wedding. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 13, 2011]

Leadership of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Since the introduction of democracy in Bhutan in 2008, the king role in government has become largely symbolic and ceremonial, with occasional advice giving to the government on constitutional matters but generally staying clear of the daily governance activity. Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley described King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as "the ultimate anchor" of Bhutan and opposition leader Tshering Tobgay said that his presence has "ensured the continuity of the monarchy" and "strengthened" the country's democracy. According to the BBC: Most people in the kingdom remain staunch royalists. Some openly wept when they heard news of his father's plans to curb the powers of the monarchy. Emotions ran similarly high when King Jigme Khesar married a commoner in October 2011. [Source: Alastair Lawson, BBC News, October 13, 2011]

Alistair Scrutton of Reuters wrote: “Bhutan’s fifth king provides the checks and balances on an unsure democracy where political parties did not exist” until 2007. “A successful monarchy may be key to bringing stability to a kingdom that sits amid a region racked by civil conflict and war. Neighboring Nepal’s monarch was recently abolished, while India absorbed the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim and China, Tibet. “I will follow in my father’s footstep,” the king said when asked which direction the monarchy would now take. “My father set the bar very high. Was a wonderful leader. We will try to live up to expectations.” [Source: Alistair Scrutton, Reuters, October 13, 2011]

After his coronation, the King’s first landmark project was the National Cadastral Resurvey in March 2009, which focused on improving the lives of people living in remote parts of Bhutan. In 2011, he launched the Kidu Foundation. Kidu or the wellbeing of the people is by tradition, a Royal Prerogative, included in the Bhutan Constitution and is the fundamental responsibility of the King. The role of the Kidu Foundation is to work with government efforts to address critical issues in areas of education, the rule of law, democracy and media, sustainable economic development, and preservation of the country’s environmental and cultural heritage. [Source:]

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: “The king’s youthfulness and worldly experience have also made him a bridge between Bhutan’s tightly guarded ancient traditions and the country’s rapidly expanding younger generation. He has become a symbol of unity and stability in a country grappling with momentous changes. The fourth king’s in-laws were not popular, widely accused of abusing their powers to enrich themselves with monopolistic controls of the sandstone and timber industries. The fifth king’s first move as monarch, an immensely popular one, was to end those monopolies through nationalization. The fact that his new bride’s parents are not business people likely stood in her favor. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 13, 2011]

“ Although his father enjoyed absolute powers, the fifth Druk Gyalpo, or “Dragon King,” is a constitutional monarch. He assiduously avoids meddling in politics, but his influence remains substantial in a country that has long looked to the monarchy for guidance. Wangchuck has spent most of his short reign touring his mountainous country and listening to his people — his stated aim is to meet all of his subjects — and he retains the powerful tool of “kidu,” roughly translated as “his majesty’s welfare.” Under kidu, the granting of government land to the landless and poor remains a royal prerogative, and it is a role the king has embraced on his travels. Kidu also allows subjects to approach the king with grievances, and villagers frequently wait by the roadside when they know he is passing.

“With a team of secretaries from the royal chamberlain’s office taking meticulous notes for possible follow-up, getting the king’s ear remains a valuable asset for the citizens of today’s Bhutan. “This is not a photocopy of the Western form of democracy; neither is it a celebration of the past,” said the king’s press secretary, Dorji Wangchuck. “But it is a genuine attempt to see how Western democratic practices can be merged with traditional forms of governance, where the king and the government are seen to be more caring and at the service of the people.”

Challenges for King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Alastair Lawson of the BBC wrote: The young king began his reign confronted by a series of challenges that would have taxed the wisest of monarchs. Prominent among them was overseeing the final stages of democratisation in his country before the elections of March 2008. Like his father, the new king stressed that it was critically important that his country complete the process of becoming a constitutional monarchy despite the reluctance of many of his subjects to see any diminution of the monarch's powers. He travelled extensively around the country encouraging people to take part in the vote — in which both main parties competed for power on similar manifestos, utterly loyal to their king. “Even though in terms of governance we are now a democracy, there is no elected individual who will enjoy the kind of respect, trust, confidence and reverence our kings enjoy," the prime minister said in 2008. [Source: Alastair Lawson, BBC News, October 13, 2011]

“Perhaps the most high-profile challenge for the government in recent years has been the plight of thousands of ethnic Nepalese, who used to live in Bhutan but who say they were forced to take refuge in camps in Nepal in the 1990s. Their status is still in dispute even though many have with the help of international agencies emigrated to the US, Canada and Australia.

“Since coming to the throne the new king has been careful to ensure that his government has not upset Bhutan's larger neighbour, India, which is known to be concerned about what it says is the presence of Assamese rebels in the south of the kingdom. Jigme Khesar signed a new treaty of friendship with India in February 2007, replacing a 1949 treaty. Delhi retains a strong influence over Bhutan's foreign policy.

“Above all, the new king has ensured that the Bhutanese monarchy does not suffer the same fate as the royal family in Nepal. The forward thinking of his father in scaling back the monarchy — and the popularity which has been lavished on his son — make that prospect unlikely.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Council of Bhutan (, National Portal of Bhutan, the Bhutan government’s main site (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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